MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Workers still reeling from sudden layoffs by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center are asking Shelby County Commissioners to help push the school to reverse those layoffs.
Around 70 UTHSC employees were laid off in March which some called a complete surprise. Some of those employees and union reps were in front of the Shelby County Commission Wednesday to ask for their help in reversing the school’s decision. They say what county commissioners can do is hold the school’s feet to the fire the next time it needs something from the county.
Jeffrey Lichtenstein with Memphis West Tennessee AFL-CIO Central Labor Council said these layoffs targeted facility workers with plans to outsource those positions. When the layoffs happened on March 12, 17 positions were open at UTHSC, and at the time the school said the laid-off employees were urged to apply for those positions.
Lichtenstein said those open positions had similar descriptions of those jobs that were cut, but with less pay.
There’s an open letter to Chancellor Steve Schwab from half a dozen Shelby County Commissioners and Memphis City Council members calling into question whether the school’s reduction in force was necessary while accepting federal bailout funds to keep Americans working during the pandemic.
“The university does not have any fiscal problems,” Lichtenstein told Shelby County commissioners. “That was also stated [in a document from UTHSC Vice Chancellor] Dr. Kennard Brown. They’re doing quite well. They’re doing quite well through the pandemic in part because of the work of these committed gentlemen whose maintenance made the facilities usable.”
“I’ve been a dedicated employee of the university for 20 plus years, 20 years at least,” said former UTHSC worker Patrick Loggins said. “For the last year and a half, I’ve been an ‘essential employee’. How can I go from being an essential employee to a non-essential one?”
In March, the university said it made adjustments to its workforce because fewer people were on campus due to the pandemic. Commissioners Tami Sawyer, Van Turner, Reginald Milton and Eddie Jones, along with Memphis City Councilors Michalyn Easter Thomas and JB Smiley have signed the letter.
Brown was invited to Wednesday’s discussion but was unable to attend according to commissioners. They said he has a standing invitation to join the commission’s discussion.
WMC reached out to the school to see if anyone had a comment. We were told no.
The letter is attached below in its entirety: