United Campus Workers Rally

Margaret Cook speaks with UCW supporters surrounding her, Photos by Jonathan Cooper

Margaret Cook speaks with UCW supporters surrounding her, Photos by Jonathan Cooper

Standing in front of Southwest Tennessee Community College off Union Avenue in Midtown Memphis, Margaret Cook led a group in the chant “Tennessee is not for sale!” Cook is the vice president of the United Campus Workers’ Memphis branch, the union for staff & faculty of public higher education in Tennessee. 

The protestors that stood behind Cook were a mix of citizens: representatives and senators from across Memphis, Southwest Tennessee Community College workers on their lunch break, and individuals attending to support UCW’s cause. The group was protesting against the outsourcing of higher education facility jobs statewide, and specifically at Southwest, to the company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), which is outside based in Chicago. 

JLL signed a contract with the state of Tennessee a year ago to provide facilital services for most of the state’s agencies and campuses, pending the approval of each public campus. This move has been pushed by Governor Bill Haslam, who allegedly has personal ties to JLL and that the contract, worth up to $1.9 billion over 5 years, could help the lame duck politician. 

Cook said the proposed outsourcing would rip precious jobs away from hardworking Tennesseans. The majority of higher education institutions across the state have opposed the measure, including all of the University of Tennessee locations and the University of Memphis. The United Campus Workers, and their advocates, implored Southwest President Tracy Hall to follow suit with these other state institutions and help the faithful citizens of Tennessee. 

Sen. Sara Kyle (D) Dist. 30

Sen. Sara Kyle (D) Dist. 30

Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D) Dist. 91

Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D) Dist. 91

Rep. GA Hardaway (D) Dist. 93

Rep. GA Hardaway (D) Dist. 93

A handful of representatives and senators came out to make their voices heard on the issue of the outsourcing contract. This included: Representative of District 93 G.A. Hardaway (D), Senator of District 30 Sara Kyle (D), Representative of District 98 Antonio Parkinson (D), Representative of District 96 Dwayne Thompson (D), Representative of District 91 Raumesh Akbari (D), and County Commissioner of District 11 Ed Jones (D). 

Akbari provided an insightful piece of context to the press conference; This whole event was taking place in the shadow of an I am a Man billboard, and 50 years after the sanitation strikes in Memphis we are still struggling to grant citizens rightful employment. Hardaway criticized Haslam saying “Don’t repay your campaign obligations on the backs of the people,” and discussing in depth how this privatization did not work for the state government in Tennessee. 

Kyle urged Memphians to call their local legislators about this issue and posed, “If people in Memphis do not have a living wage, what is the quality of the community?” 

Parkinson claimed there has been a push for privatization in the TN legislature, and that he would not stand for it. He asserted that Tennessee is a poor state, and that while unemployment numbers are down, a lot of that is skewed by many people having to works multiple jobs to make a living. 

Thompson stated that there is no good reason for the outsourcing, a move that is terrible for current state employees and which gives gives more control to private corporations like JLL that are not held accountable by the people of the state of TN, rather, their board of directors. 

Finally, Jones stepped forward and announced that both the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the University of Memphis had sided with not giving in to JLL, and pushed for Southwest TN CC to do the same. The United Campus Workers, and their advocates, implored Southwest President Tracy Hall to follow suit with these other state institutions and help the faithful citizens of Tennessee.