Knoxville News Sentinel: Lee Harris and John Ray Clemmons: Workers real experts on outsourcing state properties' operations

Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris and State Representative John Ray Clemmons write an op-ed about Governor Haslam's investigation to outsource state jobs after visiting with workers at the University of Tennessee.

Gov. Bill Haslam has begun to investigate outsourcing the operation of Tennessee's state parks, hospitals, prisons, college campuses and National Guard armories, among other facilities.

Unfortunately, the investigation so far doesn't include any time set aside for listening to those who really know what's going on at our state properties ? those who work there.

To conduct a credible investigation, you have to have real discussions, and you have to be willing to talk to those who might not agree with you. You have to be willing to consider all facts, even ones that don't support your gut intuition.

For this reason, we came to Knoxville to conduct some fact-finding discussions with the folks who run operations on the University of Tennessee's campus. We believe that the people who have been working at UT know a thing or two about how a campus operates.

The folks we talked to don't make $200 an hour, like the governor's facilities management consultants who advocate for outsourcing. Nonetheless, we believe they are experts on Tennessee properties.

We visited with the plumbers, electricians and facilities managers who spend more time at our cherished state properties, like that beautiful campus in Knoxville, than almost anybody.

We talked to students at UT who live on campus and depend on someone to show up to make sure there's hot water, make sure facilities are clean and make sure that they can get into their dorm during emergencies.

We didn't pay anyone to show up at our meeting, and we think there's less of a chance they would have any reason to tell us only what we wanted to hear.

We asked those who attended tough questions and had a very honest, raw discussion. Does UT have too many employees? Answer: Not enough.

Are there opportunities to save money? Answer: Sure, there are. But many of us make only $12 an hour and we give our hearts to this campus. No one will be able to do more than us for less pay than that. No one can.

Is there room for "efficiencies," which would generally mean cutting pay while trying to get the same level of quality? Answer: Let me repeat it again, some of us make only $12 an hour.

The men and women who work on UT's campus may not be economists or consultants, but we think they know more about how to budget than any of the high-priced consultants the state is relying on for its investigation. They have to, since some of them support their kids and other family members, all on around $12 an hour.

We heard answers to hard questions, and learned much more.

When one gentleman from plumbing explained his job to us, he nearly began to break down sobbing. The limbo he has been put in as he waits for consultants to conclude their style of fact-finding was a lot for to him to bear.

We heard from students who lived in dorms where these men and women had to come to their aid. We both have kids and would readily trust their care to employees like the ones in that room.

Before rushing to judgment that outsourcing is a good solution, the governor and others should conduct a real fact-finding investigation. Let's find out the scope of the problem, if there is one at all. Let's tour these properties and talk to the men and women who operate our state. Many of them have been serving the state of Tennessee, in one capacity or another, for decades.

We think they have earned the right to be heard. We think that gives them just as much expertise as anything you can find in a consultant's report.

Democratic state Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis is the Tennessee Senate minority leader. State Rep. John Ray Clemmons is a Democrat representing a portion of Nashville.


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