UT staff protest Haslam's privatization plan

Gov. Haslam's move to consider possible privatization of many state jobs is drawing a protest from University of Tennessee facilities staff members. Sept. 3, 2015

(WBIR-KNOXVILLE) Hundreds of staff members from the University of Tennessee made noise on Cumberland Avenue Thursday, hoping the sounds of their protest carry to Nashville and Gov. Bill Haslam.

Last month, Haslam's administration put out a "request for information" from private companies that might be interested in taking over operating some state facilities, including prisons, parks, hospitals and universities. The governor believes the plan could make some departments more efficient.

But some workers argue it could destroy thousands of jobs. Hundreds of those would be in the UT system, according to critics. They gathered outside the UT College of Law and outside a Pilot station further down Cumberland.

Josh Smyser has worked in Building Services at UT for several years. He said the protest is about more than saving his job.

"I hope that people realize that outsourcing has a really negative consequence not only for the workers, but people that utilize services, and ultimately for the taxpayers that fund state buildings like these," he said.

Many in the crowd chanted "Tennessee is not for sale."

Two men held another sign with a picture of Haslam's face edited onto pop star Miley Cyrus riding her now-infamous wrecking ball. It read, "Haslam – tearing UT down brick by brick."

"I think what concerns me most about the concept of privatization -- it sounds like a good concept, because you think the business is going to the guy next door, but in fact this is big corporate money leaving the state and it will be sublet to other corporations that are leaving the state," said Andy Powers, director of design at UT.

UT President Joe DiPietro, after word emerged of the possible privatization, issued a statement to staff members, saying he understood there were some concerns, and he wants to do what's best for the community.


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