Union: Texas state employees need a real raise–now!

Two weeks after the Texas Legislature convened its 85th biennial session, the Texas State Employees Union on January 23 called on the Legislature to raise state employee pay by $6000 a year.

The union at a media conference released data from the state Health and Human Services Commission showing that 6000 state employees are currently receiving food stamps because they aren’t being paid a living wage; furthermore, 30,000 children of state employees qualify for public assistance health care programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“It’s hard to see so many of my co-workers struggle to make ends meet,” said Anthony Brown, treasurer of TSEU and an employee at the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services. “They work hard to make sure that elderly people on Medicaid in nursing homes receive quality care, but some of my co-workers have children on Medicaid because they’re not making a living wage.”

“We need a $6000 a year raise for every state and state university worker now. We can’t wait another two years,” said Brown referring to the fact that the Texas Legislature only meets once every two years.

One of the Legislature’s main responsibilities is to appropriate money for the state budget. During the appropriations process, the Legislature sets employee salary and benefit levels.

During the last session, state employees received small raises but those raises only covered the increased contributions that employees pay into their pension fund. Many state employees actually saw their take home pay go down last fall when premiums for dependent health care insurance increased.

The high premium for dependent health care coverage has caused many state employees to drop or forego their dependent coverage and apply instead for public assistance such as Medicaid.

As a result, 30,000 children of Texas state employees qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or Texas Health Insurance Premium Payment program. The Medicaid program alone has 23,740 children of state employees on its rolls.

“Those public assistance benefits are costing the tax paying public $119 million a year”, said State Representative Donna Howard, whose inquiry to the state Health and Human Services Commission uncovered these facts.

The number of state employees who qualify for state health care is startling, but what’s even more startling is the fact that thousands of state employees are struggling to put food on the table.

“Two weeks ago, I applied for food stamps,” said Yolanda White, a member of the TSEU executive board, who works at the Lufkin State Supported Living Center, a residence for people with intellectual disabilities.

White, who has worked at the State Supported Living Center for 14 years, makes about $27,000 a year.

“Many of my co-workers are on food stamps and Medicaid,” said White. “Many of us need help taking care of our families.”

White said that it’s not right for hard working people like herself and her co-workers to be on public assistance.

“It’s time to bring state employee pay up to a living wage. We shouldn’t have to struggle when we work hard every day,” continued White.

Rep. Howard called on the Legislature to make state employee pay a priority issue for this session.

Brown said that legislative inaction on raising employee pay would be fiscally irresponsible.

“It makes no sense for lawmakers to be penny wise and pound foolish.” said Brown. “By short changing state workers on their pay, (lawmakers) are having to turn around and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on public assistance programs.”


University shared services stumbles —- again

The University of Texas at Austin (UT) pulled the plug on the most important component of its Shared Services experiment, a consolidation of support services that was supposed to save UT hundreds of millions of dollars but would have eliminated hundreds of jobs on the university’s campus.

In a message to staff, UT’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Darrell Bazzell announced the phase out of the Central Business Office (CBO) pilot program.

The CBO pilot consolidated support services such as procurement, accounting, inventory, human resources, and payment and revenue collection for a select number colleges, schools, and support units at UT.

If the pilot had been successful, all support services at UT would have been transferred to the CBO.

When the Shared Services plan was first proposed three years ago, it was estimated that as many as 500 jobs would be eliminated.

The proposal sparked an organized opposition campaign of employees worried that they might lose their jobs, faculty concerned that centralizing services would interfere with their teaching and research, and students angry that a centralized distant bureaucracy would create a barrier to vital services.

Opponents of Shared Services argued that centralizing support services would destroy the sense of community cultivated for decades among staff, faculty, and students and that it was yet another step toward the corporatization and privatization of public higher education.

Bazzell said that CBO was being phased out because it “has not produced the savings and efficiencies initially anticipated when it was launched.”

Instead of saving money, the CBO was costing an additional $600,000 per year. According to a Frequently Asked Question page about the CBO phase out, “this lack of efficiency is the principal reason we are ending the pilot.”

CBO was one of the two main components of UT’s Shared Services plan. The other was the consolidation of information technology services, which has not changed.

Shared Services was the vision of a select group of business grandees appointed by then UT President William Powers. The group’s purpose was to recommend changes that would transform UT into a more businesslike operation.

The group was composed of eminences from private equity companies, consulting firms, energy corporations, and the furniture trade.

The chair of the group was a top executive for Accenture, a well-known outsourcing and consulting firm.

In 2004, Accenture was awarded an $899 million contract to privatize Texas’ health and human services.

The state Health and Human Services Commission in 2007 fired Accenture because it failed to produce the cost savings it promised and because service deteriorated quickly once the company began implementing its plan.

“It failed miserably to provide services or save money,” wrote state senator Eddie Lucio in a 2007 op ed piece for the Valley Morning Star.

That failure didn’t dissuade the Texas attorney general from hiring Accenture to redesign the state’s child support computer system. Nearly ten years after the project began, the new system, called T2, is still being developed and cost overruns have reached $200 million dollars.

At UT, the group of business leaders tasked with transforming the university was led by Steve Rohleder, one of Accenture’s top executives. The group issued a report in 2013 entitled “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT.”

The report estimates that by implementing the CBO and consolidating information technology services, UT would save between $150 million and $200 million over ten years.

The report also contained other recommendations for making UT greater such as increasing parking fees, privatizing UT’s dining facilities, and increasing student food costs.

“Smarter Systems for a Greater UT” alarmed a large segment of the UT community, who formed the Save Our Community Coalition (SOCC), a united front that included the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 and a number of student and community groups.

The coalition led a grassroots movement opposing Shared Services and other recommendations in the report.

SOCC succeeded in stopping the privatization of food services and got the university to scale back Shared Services to a pilot program.

Now that CBO is being phased out there is some concern about its employees.

Bazzell said that 30 positions in the CBO may be eliminated, but he added that the university would try to place them in other jobs on the UT campus.

Anne Lewis, a senior lecturer at UT, a documentary film maker, and an executive board member of the Texas State Employees Union, expressed concern for those whose jobs may be eliminated

On the union’s University Caucus Facebook page, Lewis urged the administration to place those facing layoffs “in departments within our community and with control over their work and creativity, a  way that worked better for all.”

“So much for in sourcing and shared services — a lousy model for public universities,” she added.

Judge rules that TX fails its foster children; blames high worker caseloads for the failure

Before the Christmas holidays, a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas ruled that Texas’ foster care program has failed to protect children in its care and said that she would appoint a Special Master to oversee improvements to the program.

In her ruling, Judge Janis Jack blamed the state’s failure on the excessively high caseloads of the state’s foster care primary caseworkers, who according to Jack, are “tasked with ensuring the safety, permanency, and well being of foster care children” and “make life and death decisions every day.”

The high caseloads have “caused a substantial risk of serious harm to foster children,” wrote Jack.

In addition, “unmanageable caseloads” lead to a high turnover rate among caseworkers, which leads to diminished care and safety for foster children.

“Judge Jack’s decision echoes what we’ve been calling for many years. We need lower caseloads to better protect the state’s most vulnerable children,” said Myko Gedutis, assistant organizing coordinator for the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186.

Judge Jack made her ruling after hearing testimony in a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of Texas’ foster children by Children’s Rights, a national children’s advocacy group.

The Children’s Rights’ suit asserts that Texas’ failure to protect its foster children violated the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Judge Jack agreed.

The Texas foster care program is operated by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). The agency investigates reports of child abuse.

If the investigation is substantiated, DFPS may remove the children from their homes and go to court to seek conservatorship of the children. While the children are in conservatorship, the State of Texas is responsible for their care and safety.

While in conservatorship, children may be placed in foster homes, group homes, which care for six to 12 children, or general residential homes, which care for 12 or more children.

During the trial, Judge Jack heard grim testimony from adults who had been foster care children in Texas.

In summing up their testimony, Judge Jack wrote:

Their experiences . . . paint a similar picture: children often enter foster care at the Basic service level, are assigned a carousel of overburdened caseworkers, suffer abuse and neglect that is rarely confirmed or treated, are shuttled between placements— often inappropriate for their needs—throughout the State, are migrated through schools at a rate that makes academic achievement impossible, are medicated with psychotropic drugs, and then age out of foster care at the Intense service level, damaged, institutionalized, and unable to succeed as adults.

Judge Jack also heard from experts who testified that the foster care case workers’ caseload is too high.

Dr. Viola Miller, who managed two state child welfare programs and has 40 years of experience in the field, testified that in order to keep children from falling through the cracks, caseworker caseload should range from 14 to 17 children at a time.

Judge Jack in her ruling also noted that the Child Welfare League of America, the nation’s oldest and largest child welfare organization, recommends a caseworker caseload of 12 to 15 children while the Council on Accreditation for Services to Children and Families recommends a caseload of 8 to 15 children.

But DFPS puts no limit on the size of caseloads.

In 2014, 43 percent of foster care caseworkers had caseloads of 21 children or higher.

Judge Jack wrote that caseloads were likely higher than reported because DFPS counts some workers who aren’t primary caseworkers as caseworkers.

High caseloads lead to a high caseworker turnover rate, which lead to a lack of continuity and institutional knowledge.

The turnover rate for Texas’ foster care caseworkers was 26.7 percent in 2014. Caseworker turnover in Kentucky and Tennessee for the same period was 14 percent to 15 percent and 10 percent to 12 percent respectively.

According to Judge Jack, DFPS has been aware of the problems caused by unmanageable caseloads and high turnover but has remained “deliberately indifferent.”

DFPS attempts to improve the program have been failures, wrote Jack.

One such effort, called Foster Care Redesign seeks to privatize much of the foster care case management work.

Judge Jack called Foster Care Redesign “an abject failure” and noted that “even though Foster Care Redesign may have been conceived with good intentions, it was defective and half-baked from the start.”

The judge also found that the state did not have enough staff to inspect group homes and residential care homes where most foster children live.

Judge Jack recommended changes that include among other things establishing reasonable caseloads for caseworkers and group home and residential care inspectors, hiring enough caseworkers and inspectors so that these workers can adequately perform their duties, and taking steps to lower the high turnover rate.

“Judge Jack’s ruling sends a clear message that the foster care status quo is unacceptable,” said Gedutis.

A Special Master will be appointed by January 16. The Special Master will work with DFPS on a plan to implement the judge’s recommendation and will oversee the implementation of the plan.

DFPS has 180 days after the appointment of the Special Master to present its implementation plan to the judge.

DFPS has not said whether it will appeal the judge’s ruling.

Texas cancels privatization of state hospital contract

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced on March 25 that it was cancelling a deal to privatize a state psychiatric hospital in Terrell, Texas.

Six months ago HHSC announced it had awarded a contract to operate the Terrell State Hospital to Correct Care Solutions. When hospital workers objected, they were told that it was a done deal and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

But some workers didn’t listen and fought back.

As workers filed into a November 3 town hall meeting to hear about the privatization of their hospital, members of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) Organizing Committee at the hospital passed out flyers. The title of the flyers read, “THIS IS NOT A DONE DEAL.”

Inside, workers heard from the CEO of Correct Care, a company that primarily provides medical services in jails and prisons.

He tried to assure workers that the transition to private management would be painless.

But the workers weren’t so sure. They questioned whether a for-profit company could provide decent care and still make a profit. They also wanted to know if there was anything that could be done to stop or at least delay the takeover of their hospital.

Representative Lance Gooden, who had lost a Republican primary election but at the time was still Terrell’s representative in the Texas House, told them no; the privatization of the Terrell State Hospital, which is located 32 miles east of Dallas and serves 19 North Texas counties, was a done deal.

After the meeting, members of the TSEU organizing committee, began to mobilize other union members, co-workers not in the union, and others against the deal.

Some thought it was a lost cause, but the committee succeeded in generating hundreds of calls to lawmakers.

Callers, which included TSEU members not working at the Terrell State Hospital, raised questions about the transparency of the deal and asked lawmakers to hold public hearings to investigate how the hospital’s privatization would affect patient care.

Union members helped organize a coalition of opponents to the privatization plan. The coalition included patient advocacy groups and community leaders as well as the union.

In January, Texas State Senator Robert Nichols, a Republican who represents an East Texas district that includes another state hospital located in Rusk, asked the State Auditor to review the procurement process that resulted in the deal.

“I believe that if we are considering privatization of one of our state hospitals, we need to be able to show that it will not only save money for the state, but that better services will be provided,” said Sen. Nichols. “I hope that through this review some of our questions will be answered, and we will be able to determine the best next step forward in this process.”

The State Auditor conducted a review and reported that “the Health and Human Services Commission did not ensure (that its contract with Correct Care) provided the best value for the state.”

Among other things, the State Auditor found that the bidding process appeared to be flawed.

The agency gave different answers to similar questions asked by different potential vendors.

The agency received only two bids for the contract. The one that did not come from Correct Care was disqualified on a technicality.

The agency formed an evaluation team to score Correct Care’s proposal, but before the evaluation team finished its work, HHSC Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek awarded the contract to Correct Care.

HHSC kept the estimated cost of the contract artificially low. As a result of the low cost estimate, the contract did not have to be reviewed by the state’s Attorney General.

Shortly after the audit report was issued, Commissioner Janek announced that he was cancelling the contract with Correct Care.

Janek has also come under fire for another contract whose bidding process appeared to be suspect. The Austin American Statesman has reported extensively on an HHSC contract with 21CT, an Austin software company, for Medicaid fraud investigation services.

That contract was recently cancelled after the Statesman reported that HHSC’s former general counsel had worked for 21CT before coming to work for HHSC and had maintained a relationship with the company while serving as general counsel.

The FBI and a governor’s task force is currently investigating the 21CT contract.

Janek said that he wanted to privatize the Terrell State Hospital because a report by US Center for Medicare and Medicaid on the 2012 death of a patient at the hospital had found a number of serious problems.

However, after the report, the Terrell hospital staff began correcting the problems, and by 2013, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid reported that the hospital had instituted the reforms that it recommended and had corrected the problems.

TSEU said that even though the cancellation of the Terrell State Hospital privatization contract was a victory, much more needs to be done to address the mental health needs of Texans.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Texas spends about $39 a year per Texas resident on state mental health funding. That’s the second lowest amount for all 50 states, and it’s 200 percent below the national average of $120 per resident.

TSEU is urging lawmakers to fully fund the state’s public psychiatric hospitals and state supported living centers for Texans with developmental disabilities. It also wants lawmakers to fund other mental health services so that people who need these services have a range of alternatives that fits their needs.

TSEU is urging workers at the state supported living centers and state hospitals to join other TSEU members in attending the union’s 2015 Lobby Day in Austin on April 8

“TSEU is calling for a massive show of strength (on April 8) to tell the legislature that we will fight to restore funding for public services, protect state employee benefits, and win a real across-the-board raise,” said the union in message to members.

Fight for $15 at UT-Austin

On opening day of the 84th biennial session of the Texas Legislature, about 50 members of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) stood together in front of the Capitol grounds to deliver a message to lawmakers: stop privatizing state services, give all state employees a fair pay raise, and fully fund the state employee pension fund.

Some union members also carried signs demanding that the University of Texas at Austin raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

TSEU is part of the UT Save Our Community Coalition, a student and community coalition, that is bringing the Fight for $15 to the UT campus, located a few blocks north of the Capitol.

While much of the focus of the Fight for $15 has been on raising wages in retail and the fast food industries, many workers at UT Austin and other state universities make less than $15 an hour.

These low-wage workers provide vital services that make education possible, and many of the jobs they perform are not the kind of jobs we think of as low-wage work.

“An administrative assistant in my department makes $20,019 a year,” said Anne Lewis, a lecturer in the UT-Austin Radio, Film, and Television Department and a member of TSEU’s executive board. “These kinds of jobs are prevalent throughout UT, and most of them pay in the low 20K range.”

The hourly wage for a person making $20,019 a year is about $9.60 an hour.

“A friend of mine who was laid off after working as an oral history transcriber at UT for 30 years was making about $27,000 a year when she was laid off,” said Lewis.

The hourly wage of a person making $27,000 a year is about $13 an hour.

Some  administrative jobs at UT are filled by temporary workers hired through UT’s temporary staffing agency UTemps. Many of them make $11 to $12 an hour.

And there are many other low-paying jobs on campus.

The starting pay for the workers who clean UT’s building after students, faculty, and other staff members go home at night is $1,907 a month, or about $11 an hour, and starting pay for food preparation workers at UT’s dining halls is about $11.50 an hour.

Pay for graduate students who teach many of UT’s undergraduate courses starts at $11.27 an hour.

According to an MIT living wage calculator, a living wage in Austin for a worker with one child is more than $19 an hour.

One reason that so many workers aren’t making a living wage at UT is that there has not been an across the board cost of living pay increase in more than ten years.

“In 2003, university workers were severed from state worker pay raises,” said Lewis. “As a result when state workers have gotten cost of living raises, university workers have not.”

“Departments can give cost of living raises, but because of expensive salaries that UT is paying for newly hired executives and huge raises of high level administrators, the departments are being starved and can’t give sufficient across the board raises to keep up even if they wanted to,” said Lewis.

When the Legislature in 2003 exempted universities from giving state employee raises, it also deregulated student tuition and fees at the state’s public universities, giving university administrators a free rein to increase tuition and fees.

Since then, tuition and fees at state universities have nearly doubled and student debt in Texas has increased 61 percent.

According to UT administrators, the lack of state funding has caused a budget crisis at UT that requires higher tuition and low wages.

But the austerity measures imposed on UT’s student and workers do not extend to executives who manage the campus.

“Last summer, UT advertised a position in Shared Services with a starting pay of $14,500 a month,” said Lewis.

Shared Services is the university administration’s latest attempt to make the university operate more like a corporation.

It consolidates and centralizes services, relies on call centers rather than face-to-face contact for services, and has caused job losses at UT.

It is currently being piloted in a few departments.

Despite the highly paid executives supervising Shared Services, the results have not been good.

In November, the College of Education, one of the departments where Shared Services is being piloted, asked to be let out of the experiment because Shared Services service level was so bad.

Shared Services management team isn’t the only group of UT executives receiving over sized paychecks.

The Austin Business Journal reports that, “The University of Texas at Austin has one of the highest rates of executive pay in the nation.”

According to a report published by the Institute of Policy Studies, the average pay for UT’s top executives in 2012 was $716,644 (in 2006 dollars), and UT ranked tenth in executive pay among US public universities.

According to the Save Our Community Coalition, the top 100 earners at UT are paid $42 million a year, and the top 10 earners more than $14.9 million a year.

Members of the  Fight for $15 campaign have been calling attention to the fact that UT workers and students have been the ones making sacrifices while top UT administrators have been enriching themselves.

Right now, Fight for $15 supporters are circulating a petition that they are asking members of the UT community to sign.

On January 27 at 6:00 P.M., they’ll be screening a documentary entitled “Shadows of Liberty” about the corporate takeover of the media. The screening takes place at the Belo Center for New Media at UT.

In February, they’ll be hosting a forum where the featured speaker will be James Galbraith, the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations and Professor of Government at UT.

In March, UT TSEU members will be holding a mini-lobby day where they will make a case to lawmakers for including UT workers in state employee pay raises and increasing the minimum wage at UT to $15 an hour.

High employee turnover, lack of adequate funding put Texas foster care children at risk

A task force in a Texas county where two children died while in foster care last summer has found that the main problem with Texas’ foster care program is that employee turnover is too high at the state agency that investigates child abuse and monitors the safety of children in foster care.

“Our number one problem is the turnover of (Child Protective Services) workers,” said Williamson County Commissioner  Lisa Birkman in a meeting of the task force reported by the Austin American Statesman.

According to the Statesman article, four children have died while in foster care in Williamson County within the past few years. Williamson County, where a number of Austin suburbs are located, is just north of Austin.

The problems with foster care in Williamson County extend throughout the state, and Texas for years has struggled to improve its foster care program.

Improvement became more urgent in 2013 after ten children died in foster care or in the care of a relative providing foster care services.

The 2013 deaths led Child Protective Services (CPS), the Texas agency that oversees the foster care program, to enact more regulations intended to improve the monitoring of foster care homes and facilities.

Before the agency implemented the new regulations, the state began experimenting with a redesign of the foster care program that relies heavily on privatization.

But Myko Gedutis, assistant organizing coordinator for the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU), said that it will take more than new regulations and privatization schemes to improve foster care in Texas.

“Foster care outcomes will improve when services are funded adequately,”  said Gedutis. “The state needs to pay foster parents more so that more families can afford take care of foster children; it needs to ensure that foster children receive the services they need to thrive; and it needs to improve pay and reduce caseloads in order to reduce the high turnover rate among CPS employees.”

Lawmakers thought that they could save money and provide more services by privatizing foster care management, but that hasn’t worked out very well.

They instructed the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), which oversees CPS, to contract with private companies to manage foster care services. The privatization of foster care management is called Foster Care Redesign.

Last summer Providence Services Corporation, one of the state’s two Foster Care Redesign contractors, quit because, according to Providence CEO Mike Fidgen, Texas foster care is inadequately funded.

“The failure of Providence showed that systemic under funding of the foster care system is the source of foster care’s problems,” said Gedutis.

Gedutis said that he is encouraged by the fact that more people like Commissioner Birkman, a Republican, are recognizing that employee turnover is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In fact, there’s a growing consensus that reducing the turnover rate at CPS is essential to improving foster care.

An operational review of CPS conducted by the Stephen Group finds that employee “turnover is a major organizational burden.”

DFPS has told lawmakers that the agency’s high turnover rate needs to be addressed, and some lawmakers such as Larry Gonzalez, a Republican from Williamson County, have agreed.

But while a consensus about the problem is growing, there’s no consensus on a solution.

The official response seems to be that the key to reducing turnover is to reduce job stress.

With this in mind, the Texas Sunset Commission and the Stephen Group have recommended simplifying the state Family Code so that child protective workers don’t have to spend so much time documenting compliance with the Family Code.

That might be a good start, but if lawmakers and state officials are serious about reducing employee turnover at CPS, they should listen to the workers.

Former CPS workers who responded to an exit survey said that the main reasons that they left were poor working conditions, excessive workloads, supervisor issues, and inadequate compensation.

Another survey of workers still with the agency found that only 3 percent of those surveyed said that they were adequately paid, while 75 percent said that they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their current pay.

Average pay for CPS caseworkers ranges from $34,516 a year to $37,718 a year. The job requires a four-year college degree or comparable work experience.

In addition to low pay, CPS caseworkers struggle with high caseloads.

According to the CPS Annual Report, the statewide average daily caseload for a CPS investigative caseworker is 19.7 cases. The Midland region with an average of 24.4 cases per worker is the region with the highest average caseload.

The Child Welfare League of America recommends a caseload of 12-15 foster care children per caseworker.

CPS employees understand the impact that high caseloads have on their jobs.

“When caseloads are too high, you cannot provide quality service to the client,” wrote one CPS employee on the survey referred to above.

“Workers are overloaded and . . . this puts children at risk,” wrote another employee

Addressing the high turnover rate by raising pay and lowering caseloads is one step that the Legislature needs to take when it convenes next year, said Gedutis, but there are other areas of concern that need to be addressed.

“TSEU’s Family Protective Services caucus (the union members who work for DFPS) has taken the position that foster care outcomes will improve when the program receives adequate funding,” said Gedutis. “As the failure of Providence showed, systemic under funding of the foster care system has resulted in an inadequate foster care network, both public and private. Improvement can’t take place by changing who manages that inadequate network. Only by providing adequate funding can we ensure that all foster care children are living in a safe environment.”

Demonstators to UT: “No layoffs, privatization, or Accenture”

Workers, students, and faculty on February 7 rallied at the University of Texas at Austin campus to protest a plan to eliminate 500 UT jobs. The plan was authored by Accenture, an international company specializing in privatizing public resources.

More than 300 people gathered at and marched across the campus on a day when the opening of classes was delayed until noon because of a winter weather advisory.

“(Accenture’s) plan is for UT to spend $130 million in order to eliminate 500 UT jobs and relocate 400 other jobs into centralized call centers,” said Anne Lewis, an instructor in the UT Radio, Television, and Film Department and executive board member of the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU) at the rally.

“The plan is the same old stuff on steroids,” Lewis continued. “Claiming austerity, (it’s)a neoliberal attack on the public sector and on public workers.  The impact is both on the nature and the day-to-day at this university.”

UT, claiming that it is facing a deficit in its operating budget, contracted with Accenture to develop a plan to redesign administrative services and save money.

Accenture’s big picture plan calls for more centralization and the privatization of services at UT.

Accenture released its Shared Services proposal, the initial phase of its long-range redesign plan, in the fall of 2013. The plan eliminates 500 administrative information technology, finance, and human resources jobs and centralizes the rest. Much of the centralized work would be done at call centers.

Shared Services and Accenture’s long-range redesign plan has sparked the ire of students, workers, and faculty, which has led to a series of public protests.

“We’ve won some victories,” said Lewis at a TSEU meeting prior to the most recent rally and march. “UT backed away from privatizing food service work, which Accenture originally proposed, and more recently, the UT administration said that it will slow down the implementation of Shared Services. But the administration is just biding its time hoping that we’ll be lulled into a sense of complacency, so that it can move ahead without so much resistance.”

The fight to halt Accenture’s ill-conceived redesign plan, is led by the Save Our Community Coalition (SOCC), composed of TSEU, Education Austin, Workers Defense Project, International Socialist Organization (ISO), Oxfam, University Leadership Initiative, Native American and Indigenous Collective (NAIC), Queer People of Color and Allies (QPOCA), Texas Fair Trade Coalition, and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).

The February rally and march coincided with a national USAS conference, and many of the participants were USAS members attending the conference.

“(We fear) that any continuing relationship with Accenture puts the university at risk,” Bianca Hinz Foley, local organizer for USAS. “The Save Our Community Coalition, a UT and community-based group, is committed to putting pressure on the UT administration to protect UT as a place that values each community member, including hard-working and dedicated staff. The group is calling on Chancellor Cigarroa and President Bill Powers to terminate all current contracts with Accenture and prevent any future relationships with the firm.”

According SOCC, Accenture has a long history of costly and failed redesign projects. Most prominent among these was Accenture’s plan to redesign and privatize Texas’ health and human services.

Texas paid Accenture more than $200 million but had to scrap its plan that relied heavily on privatized call centers because the call centers made it difficult for Texans to access health and human services such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and food stamps.

UT workers, students, and faculty are concerned that if Accenture’s administrative redesign is implemented the quality of services provided by UT employees will decline because the close working relationship that now exists between staff and the students and faculty who they serve will be replaced by impersonal and distant call centers.

UT has justified the need for Accenture’s redesign by citing a deficit in the university’s operating budget.

But Dr. Alberto Martinez, a UT history professor, in an op ed piece appearing in the Austin American Statesman said that UT’s so-called fiscal crisis is really a crisis of misplaced priorities.

According to Martinez, UT raised $463 million last year as a result of its fund raising efforts; however, none of this money will be used to fund operations, where it is really needed.

Instead, the money was funneled into endowments and other restricted accounts.

If UT had its priorities straight, wrote Martinez. “We could solve a severe $1 million deficit in a college in just 20 hours of fund raising.”