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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 President Gay Henson, right, helps put up signs at Miller Park on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Members of the Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 were protesting the announced layoffs of Tennessee Valley Authority IT workers.

After outsourcing 120 information technology jobs over the past year, one of the biggest labor unions at the Tennessee Valley Authority says TVA may cut another 100 IT jobs from its staff and turn such work over to contract programmers and data support specialists operating outside of the Tennessee Valley.

During a protest Wednesday by labor leaders against TVA's outsourcing plans, leaders of the Engineers Association said the potential loss of up to 220 jobs from TVA's payroll could drain over $88 million from the region's economy over the next five years. Union leaders, who said the TVA board has refused to listen to their complaints, called upon Congress to conduct hearings into the outsourcing moves, which they said violate TVA's mission to aid the Tennessee Valley.

"Our lawmakers are allowing TVA to offshore these jobs when it doesn't save TVA any money," said Matt Biggs, secretary-treasury of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) which represents about 2,500 workers at TVA, including the IT workers losing their jobs because of outsourcing their work. "These employees whose jobs are being cut have either met or exceeded TVA's own expectations. To add insult to injury, they are doing this during a pandemic when Congress is spending trillions of dollars of taxpayer monies to save jobs to keep our economy going."

TVA gave notice to 62 IT employees being laid off this month as the utility shifts more of its programming and data work to outside contractors. TVA previously found other jobs for another 37 IT workers being displaced by the changes and TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the agency is providing outplacement services and 90 days pay for those informed of the job losses this month.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / The Workers First Caravan drove around the TVA building honking their horns on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Members of the Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 were protesting the announced layoffs of Tennessee Valley Authority IT workers. Each sign represents one of the workers slated to those their job.

Hopson said TVA has worked with the Engineering Association union under the contract review process over the past year and determined that contractors could provide services to TVA more effectively than TVA writing its own software programs for cybersecurity and other IT work.

The federal utility has contracted with CapGemini, which is based in France and has nearly half of its workforce in India, the Canadian-based CGI, and Accenture Federal Services, which is headquartered in Virginia and is a subsidiary of the Irish-based Accenture plc, for some of TVA's IT work. The union claims even more TVA jobs are on the chopping block due to the outsourcing of such work.

Gay Henson, president of the IFPTE Local 1937, said TVA workers are now having to train their replacements and many of the new contract workers are not U.S. citizens but are working in America under H-1B visas.

But Hopson said all of the IT work for TVA will be done in the United States. Hopson said other federal agencies, including the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Justice, have hired the same contractors for IT work and other utilities have made similar moves. But Biggs said other federal agencies have more extensive reviews of any outsourcing contracts and generally are not using foreign-based contractors for major ongoing work.

Biggs said Ontario Power Co. outsourced some IT work that it later determined should be brought back inhouse and done by its own staff.

Union leaders worry that over time much of TVA's contracted work will be done overseas and, even now, most will not be done in TVA's service territory.

"We want TVA to stop these layoffs," Henson said.

To call attention to their concerns, union leaders put up 220 signs in and around Miller Park in downtown Chattanooga  Wednesday morning urging TVA not to export jobs. Each of the signs represents one of the displaced workers, Henson said.

The Engineers Association campaign was supported by other unions who organized a "Tennessee Workers First Caravan" through downtown Wednesday, urging TVA to stop outsourcing jobs.

As part of their National Day of Action, AFL-CIO workers and allies drove vehicles around TVA's Chattanooga Office Complex, including the TVA computer center where most of the agency's IT work is done.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / The Workers First Caravan drove around the TVA building honking their horns on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Members of the Engineering Association/IFPTE Local 1937 were protesting the announced layoffs of Tennessee Valley Authority IT workers. Each sign represents one of the workers slated to those their job.

 

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