Haslam’s “TEAM” Act Would Eliminate Veterans’ Preference for State Workers
Governor Bill Haslam’s stealthy effort to eliminate veterans’ preference for state hires looks poised to hit a very public stumbling block — Tennessee veterans.
Haslam’s TEAM Act would eliminate civil service rules, such as veterans’ preference, that protect taxpayers from political patronage, a corrupted hiring system that centralizes authority and rewards friends and campaign donors with government jobs and contracts.
William Woolet, of Knoxville, served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War from 1945 to 1952 aboard the U.S.S. Princeton, an aircraft carrier. Woolet says it’s wrong to take away rights from veterans when so many young men and women are coming home without a job.
“Maybe Governor Haslam doesn’t understand that there just aren’t enough jobs out here right now,” Woolet said. “That means getting a job for a veteran is pretty a big deal. It doesn’t make me feel very good that he’d want to change veterans’ preference. These soldiers deserve better when they get back.
“And I can promise you this: If a veteran is qualified to do the work, you cannot find an employee who’ll do the work and get the job done better than a veteran,” Woolet said.
The unemployment rate for young men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is upward of 30 percent, according to estimates. In a state with multiple military installations and more than 400,000 veterans, Haslam’s decision to eliminate veterans’ preference is making headlines.
Army Sgt. Merrie Morrison, of Clarksville, said she felt blind-sided by Governor Haslam’s proposal to eliminate the veterans’ preference for state jobs.
“This seems like it has come out of nowhere,” Morrison said. “It’s a kick in the gut.”
Morrison has deep ties to military service throughout her family — her late husband was in the Army; her father was in the Army; her uncle, the Marine Corps; and her son is a Master of Arms in the U.S. Navy stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
“When you join the military, you don’t know what you’re getting into — an office job, a sandbox or a jungle — but you do it, and you give your body, mind and soul to the United States for the good of the country,” Morrison said. “Veterans’ preference is a very small benefit to get in return for giving your life to your country. Taking away rights from veterans is completely counter to everything Tennesseans believe in.”
Morrison said her son hopes to land a job as a police officer following his service. It’s a position where veterans’ preference will likely help. “Applicants still have to be equally qualified for the job before veterans’ preference is a factor — it’s a tiebreaker, not a job-maker,” Morrison said.
Whiteville, Tenn. resident Randall Rice, who served in the Army in the ’70s, had strong words for the governor’s proposed rule change.
“I think what Governor Haslam is trying to do is disgraceful,” Rice said. “We ask our young men and women to serve our country, and they volunteer. They go all around the world, and it works on them. The last thing they should have to worry about is finding a good job when they come back. They’ve given us everything they have. Veterans’ preference is the least we can do for young men and women when they come home.”
Kingsport, Tenn. resident Telmon Jones, who served as an Army tank crewman during the Cold War, said he has personally benefited from pro-veteran hiring policies and sees no reason to change the rules for veterans seeking state jobs.
“This is a dangerous move for Governor Haslam to make,” Jones said. “It may seem like a small step, but veterans’ preference can mean a lot to a veteran. It’s helped me more than once. For these young men and women coming back now, a job could be a life-changing event.”