Majority of lawmakers ask state to slow down on outsourcing

Seventy-five state lawmakers are asking Gov. Bill Haslam to postpone his outsourcing plan.

Seventy-five state lawmakers have signed a letter urging Gov. Bill Haslam's administration to postpone a plan to outsource jobs on college campuses and other state-owned property, delivering yet another blow to the controversial proposal.

In the letter to Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin, signed by Republicans and Democrats from both chambers, the lawmakers ask to delay the outsourcing plan to allow "enough time to address concerns from the General Assembly."

"Our reservations include the potential impact to state employees," the letter read. "We respectfully request that the outsourcing process wait until the General Assembly is able to study and understand the effects on our public services, economy, and state workers."

This is only the latest sign of deep reservations surrounding the project, which Haslam has championed against wide-ranging criticism for more than a year.

Workers' rights advocates, including a union representing campus workers, have blasted Haslam for prioritizing money over state workers and their families. College leaders have predicted the change would hurt services on campus.

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And lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been skeptical of the state's suggestion that privatizing building and grounds management at colleges, state parks and other properties could save the state about $35 million a year. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent Martin an earlier letter critical of the outsourcing plan in January.

Haslam has said each campus will get to decide if it wants to participate in the outsourcing deal brokered by the state. But he has insisted that the savings would be possible without cutting jobs or benefits for existing state workers.

Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, who took the lead in shaping the letter with help from workers' advocates, said the state's math didn't make sense to him.

"I do not understand where the savings could come from if it's the same number of employees making the same wages with the same benefits," Dickerson said. "They're taking a slice out of the pie and I don't know where they're getting it."

So far, criticism has done little to blunt the governor's momentum. In March, the state announced it was negotiating a contract with Chicago-based JLL — a company that already oversees some state property — clearing the way for the plan to take effect. JLL has signed the contract and the state is reviewing it.

In an email responding to questions about the lawmakers' letter, the spokeswoman for the state office overseeing the outsourcing plan did not suggest it would slow down.

"We are in the process of reaching out to legislators to answer questions they may have," spokeswoman Michelle R. Martin said Tuesday.

Later on Tuesday, Dickerson said he had not heard from the administration. But he said he was hopeful the show of force from a majority of legislators would make an impact.

"I do think it carries a certain clout," Dickerson said.

Thomas Walker, spokesman for United Campus Workers, said the letter, and its broad base of support, could provide political cover for college leaders who want to opt out of the outsourcing plan.

“They know that they have some alliances in the General Assembly who are supportive," Walker said.

Reach Adam Tamburin at atamburin@tennessean.com or 615-726-5986 and on Twitter @tamburintweets.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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