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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / David, right, and Emily Anderson 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.

The Tennessee Valley Authority told another 38 information technology workers Tuesday that their jobs are being phased out as TVA continues to outsource its data processing, programming and support services to contractors the utility claims are more expert and experienced in performing such tasks.

Despite opposition from one of its biggest labor unions and some members of Congress, TVA gave initial notices to the 38 support service workers that their jobs will soon be phased out similar to the 120 jobs already outsourced by TVA elsewhere in the IT division.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said replacing the work now done by TVA employees with contractors that specialize in such work is part of the utility's "ongoing modernization to better reflect best practices in the utility industry and other federal agencies. "

Outsourcing the IT won't necessarily save TVA money and doesn't reflect any drop in the IT workload Hopson said. The TVA spokesman said the contractors hired for such work have greater industry expertise and experience in implementing software changes as TVA continues to upgrades its technology and cybersecurity programs.

Hopson said TVA has worked with the Engineering Association union under the contract review process over the past year before making the change.

"After reviewing the findings, IT leadership has concluded that certain support functions can be performed with greater flexibility and faster access to innovation by using other firms who specialize in these services," he said.

Impacted employees will receive their formal layoff notices later in July, which will begin a 90-day transitional period where they will continue to receive full pay and benefits. In addition, the displaced workers will be eligible to apply for existing and new TVA positions during this period, as well as have access to comprehensive outplacement services.

Hopson said contracts for firms to perform IT support services, such as operations center, desktop support and service management, have not been finalized. Among those losing their jobs, 35 work at the data processing center at the Chattanooga Office Complex and three work at TVA's headquarters in Knoxville.

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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.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 1937, which represents about 2,500 workers at TVA, has objected to the outsourcing, claiming it violates TVA's mission of promoting economic development in the Tennessee Valley.

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.

"TVA continues down the path of sending capable IT employees to the house as they replaced them with workers from outside the Tennessee Valley or even worse with foreign H1-B workers," she said. "These jobs will be done remotely and the jobs and the families they represent will no longer add to the economic fabric of our local communities This is an awfully short-sighted decision that affects not just the workers but also the valley ratepayers. It is an outlandish move!"

In early June, TVA gave termination notices to 62 IT employees 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.

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.

In a statement Tuesday, the president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Paul Shearon, said the latest layoffs "double down on a reckless decision.

"It's outrageous that a federally owned utility is outsourcing and offshoring work while bringing in replacements under H1-B visas during the pandemic and at a time when issues related to the security of the grid are increasing," Shearon said.

Hopson said like all federal agencies, TVA's contracts require all work to be completed in the United States and all data to be stored on U.S.-based servers. 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.

Two weeks ago, the Engineering Association and its supporters protested TVA's decision to outsource the IT work with rallies around both the TVA power headquarters in Chattanooga and TVA's corporate headquarters in Knoxville.

The TVA engineers union was supported by the Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement, Jobs with Justice of East TN, Interfaith Worker Justice of East TN, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Science for the People – East Tennessee, the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Central Labor Council and the Chattanooga Area Labor Council.

Congressional members from both political parties, including Democrats Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama and Republicans such as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama have urged TVA to reverse the employee layoffs and not outsource such work. Cohen had tried to put language in the coronavirus pandemic relief legislation to limit the ability of TVA to outsource jobs. But those measures have yet to be adopted by Congress.

TVA continues to employ nearly 10,000 employees across its 7-state region. But that is less than 20% of the more than 52,000 employees TVA once employed in the early 1980s when it planned to build and operate 17 nuclear reactors. Ultimately, only seven of those reactors were ever built and TVA has shifted most of its construction work to outsource contractors.

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

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