If you are a TDOT employee, I am sure you have heard about the plans to restructure the department. The first phase of this restructuring will be to merge the construction and maintenance divisions. Like you, TSEA has many questions about these proposed changes.
Early in September, Executive Director Bob O’Connell, Government Affairs Director Sarah Adair, and Employee Rights Manager JoAnn Davis-Davis attended a meeting with Commissioner Schroer and his staff to discuss his plans for TDOT. Then, on September 28th, TSEA’s Government Affairs Director Sarah Adair participated in a brief conference call with Commissioner Schroer and several of his high level staffers where a general discussion of the planned changes occurred, and at which time, the Commissioner agreed to TSEA’s request to attend the planned bus tour meetings to each regional office. TSEA representatives attended these meetings with the Commissioner where he discussed the changes.
Several items were explained in these meetings, the most important being that the Department was not letting everyone go on October 1st as was rumored out in the field. The commissioner apologized at his regional office for this rumor and wanted everyone to know that it was not his intention to let anyone go. In fact, we were encouraged by a promise by the Commissioner that no one will lose a job out of the new restructuring plan.
Basically, the idea to merge the construction and maintenance division came from the department’s top to bottom review, where a group of employees recommended this as an effort to be more efficient. In these divisions, employees are busy at different times of the year, and each area is short on staff, so it only makes sense to combine the duties. Below are a list of the questions that we have asked on your behalf regarding this merger, with the answers given to us from your commissioner. Our objective was to gather accurate information and timelines for all proposed changes and to ensure that all impacted state workers can retain their TDOT jobs and are provided the opportunity to improve their present standard of living.
Q: Will any county shops close as a result of this merger?
A: No, employees will be cross-trained in maintenance and construction, allowing a larger team of employees to work on local projects. Only counties with small numbers of employees (under 10) will be merged, and the shops will remain open with the whole team working between two county shops instead of just one.
Q: How will I get to work because I cannot afford to drive to another county?
A: The Department is still working thru this issue, however it understands this concern and is trying to accommodate everyone. We hope that workers can drive to their own county shop and then all ride together to the other county in a state vehicle.
Q: Why am I re-applying for my job?
A: In this merger, employees will be cross-trained and new job classifications will be created. By creating new classifications, new salary ranges can be set that recognize the additional duties that will be required, as well as the additional qualifications that will be needed. The department is asking that everyone fill out an application so that your HR dept. can determine who has the new qualifications and who needs training or education to be qualified. No one will have to interview for the job, and every employee will be given the opportunity to obtain the new qualifications and move up into this new classification, which will result in a pay raise.
Q: I do not have my GED. Can I be fired?
A: The combo position that is created by this merger will require a GED. TDOT will pay for you to get your GED and will help you with time off if needed to get it. The department wants every employee to use this as an opportunity to better themselves. If the new job requires a GED, then it will pay more. If you get a GED, you will get a raise with this new classification. No one will be fired for not getting a GED, as there will be one entry level job that will not require a GED. However, the Commissioner wants everyone to try. Many long-term employees may think that they cannot pass this test, but that is not true. We believe they can pass with encouragement and tutoring. It will be a sense of accomplishment and pride for each person that reaches this goal.
Q: What if the new position requires a CLE or higher degree?
A: The department has committed to paying for CLE training and licenses and hopes to bring a training course in-house so that employees are not on a waiting list to be certified. In addition, the department will also help pay for college courses if needed. Any employee that is interested in obtaining a college degree in engineering needs to contact their HR office. It is important that everyone shows some initiative and that the department sees the employees’ desire to move up.
Q: If no one is losing their job, then why do we keep hearing that the dept. is going to hire new people?
A: The department plans on bringing construction inspection consulting work back in-house. It has spent millions of dollars on contract labor and lost many wonderful employees to the contract providers. Now, by bringing this function back within state government, the department can save money and actually pay competitive salaries. The commissioner plans on hiring 130-140 new employees to do this inspection work. It will require an engineering degree and PE license. So again, if you are interested in this, please let your HR office know so that you can start earning your education requirements as soon as possible.
Q: Why are we doing this?
A: The department sees this as a way to operate more efficiently, but the most important reason is because your commissioner wants to pay you what you are worth. He came to the State and was shocked at the low salaries that his employees make and promised to help employees make more. Last year Commissioner Schroer demonstrated his commitment to this promise when he gave the Help Truck workers a hazardous duty pay raise for the dangerous work they do. He knows that under the existing classifications, he cannot give out raises. But, he knows that he can justify pay raises if he changes the classifications. Pay is based on qualifications and job duties, so if you get a higher credential or take on more responsibility, you will get paid more. He will give you the tools to improve and everything you need to succeed, he just needs you to want to make a change for the better and show a willingness to try.
Q: When will this merger take place and what counties will be impacted?
A: The department is in the process of identifying what counties can be merged together, but the timeline has not been worked out yet. First, employees must be cross-trained on the duties, which includes determining who is eligible to be moved immediately into the new classification. We expect to hear more details on the time frame at the first of the year.
Q: When will I be eligible for the pay raise with this new combo position?
A: The department is presently working on the job specifications for all positions. All jobs need new specifications, which outline exactly what is required to do the job and what the specific job duties are. For the combo classification jobs (construction/maintenance series), the department should be ready to hire by the end of November. Anyone that has one of these jobs and needs some training or education to get the new position will be given 2 to 3 years to become qualified. Others that are already qualified will be moved into these classifications as soon as the classifications are approved and positions awarded to specific shops.
Q: How will I get credit for my years of service if I do not have the education?
A: Your experience and years of service will be valued within the pay awarded for the position, but you will not be given credit for years of experience instead of all education. In some cases, you will be required to get a GED, regardless of your years of service. In others, your years of service may count towards the position level of pay, or for promotions. We won’t have specific answers for this until we have the final criteria for all the jobs and the new classifications approved. It is important to note that if you are not qualified for a new position, you will stay in your present position until you get the proper qualifications. They will not fire you and will give you the time to get the qualifications. Once you are qualified, you will be moved into the new classification and start receiving the new pay rate.
There are still many unanswered questions. We are in constant communication with the HR office for TDOT, so if you have concerns that we have not addressed here, please contact TSEA’s JoAnn Davis-Davis so that she can provide you with answers. We will update you further as we find out more information and as the merger is rolled out.
TSEA values our TDOT members and we will continue to advocate for you during this process.