In response to UT President Powers, Smarter Systems for a Greater UT

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which lays the groundwork for “an existence worthy of human dignity” states in Article 23:  Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.  Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The Texas State Employees Union is deeply concerned that President Power’s January 29, 2013 plan for cost saving through privatization, consolidation, and commercialization does not respect the rights of workers.

The plan is based on a report from the Committee on Business Productivity appointed in April 2012. (CLICK HERE for a link to details on this plan – URL provided below).   Committee Chair, Steve Rohleder is part of the executive leadership of Accenture, a global outsourcing company that cost the state of Texas more than $800 million in a failed effort to privatize food stamp and TANF eligibility.  Other members of the committee are tied to equity firms TPG, Capital Royalty, HM Capital, Falconhead Capital, and Bull Ventures; and to Boeing, StarTex, Dell, and Susser.

President Powers says that the only way that UT-Austin can become “the very best public university in America” is to operate like a business through outsourcing and privatization of services; market costs to students for meal plans, housing, and parking; job reductions through consolidation of human resources, technology, and financial processing; and commercialization of intellectual property.  He calls this a moral imperative.  President Powers states, “We’ve been outsourcing all along: we don’t have a fleet of airplanes used by faculty to get to meetings; we use Southwest Airlines.”

UT probably should not own a fleet of airplanes and pay the pilots with public funds.  But this is quite different from guaranteed pay levels and advancement possibilities, state pensions and benefits, safety and environmental standards, rules against discrimination in employment, and the right to join a union for the workers (including work study students) who serve food, clean buildings, support our offices and technical facilities, and generally keep the university running.

We also question the assumption that cost-saving experiments endorsed by finance capital are best for the citizens of Texas. Accenture’s failed contract needlessly increased the suffering of thousands of poor and working class Texans and their children.  The attempt to take over management of the Kerrville State Hospital last year by Geo Group, the private prison corporation, was resolved when State Health Commissioner David Lakey stated that reductions in staffing would put both the patients and the State of Texas at risk.  The notion that a business model is the only way for human endeavors to succeed seems strange at best.   Cost saving business practices have contributed to economic inequality, disregard of safety and environmental standards, and discrimination in employment.  It’s why we need laws, government regulation, and labor unions where workers can have a collective voice.

It’s often more – not less – expensive when we turn not-for-profit into for profit.  The savings that come from lower pay, lower health care costs, and erosion of pensions for workers will most likely benefit the company more than our university.   That’s part of the margin of profit.  The other part is increased cost for services.  We already see the suggestion that students should pay 50% more for their privatized meal plans; 113% more for privatized parking for staff and students; more for privatized student housing – all going towards the profits of contracted corporations and none benefiting our community.

President Powers boasts that “over the past five years, some 4,000 people left the payroll voluntarily. That’s 20 percent of UT’s core staff workforce.”  Those jobs and positions have not been replaced.  The thought of an additional 20 percent cut back is feared not only by workers who may not leave voluntarily but also by their co-workers who have added work loads and sometimes impossible jobs. Go to any office in our university at 7 PM and you will find workers who have been there since 8 AM. The work of support staff is necessary for the university to function properly.   It’s wrong to balance a budget on job loss and inadequate staffing. President Powers compares the effort, which will be led by Chief Financial Officer Mr. Hegarty, to the Pope moving an obelisk in 1586.  As union people who respect the dignity of work both intellectual and manual, we ask who exactly carried that 344 ton obelisk, why was it moved, and under whose organizational authority.  We’re sure that Mr. Hegarty would agree that he has none of the moral authority of a Pope.  Our University is not a 344-ton obelisk.  We who devote our intellect, energy, and care to UT should have a voice in these decisions that so deeply impact our lives, our families, and our community.

We suggest another approach.  President Powers should go to the Texas legislature and demand that the State pay its share with the same force he used to promote Austin taxpayer funding of a new medical school.

April 10, 2013 TSEU members will be at the capitol demanding the rights of public workers.  Students, other unions, grassroots organizations, faith based groups, and concerned politicians will be with us.  We invite President Powers, Chief Financial Officer Hegarty, and other members of the administration of our great university to join us in that effort.

2013-Anne-LewisAnne Lewis, TSEU Executive Board Member, Region 8 (Central Texas)