published Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Gerber: TVA pay kerfuffle goes on

The flood from TVA has lessened but not dried up completely.

I’m not referring to the controlled flooding at TVA’s numerous dams; rather, this is about the tsunami of responses I have received in the two weeks since the Times Free Press put the salaries of TVA’s 12,515 employees on our website.

Some threatened me and wished me bad luck, unhappiness and, well, let’s just say great personal misfortune. One irate woman ended her email this way: “Wishing you the worst.”

A few left me anonymous, expletive-laced voice mails.

The newspaper’s use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the public information is “sleazy and unethical,” according to one TVA employee.

Another said publishing the salaries is “disruptive to productivity and efficiency because of the inevitable emotional effects, including jealousy and resentment.”

A top TVA official, in a letter to employees, said TVA turned the information over to the newspaper because it “is important that we try to maintain the level of transparency ... that the public expects from us.”

Still, many employees are not happy about that transparency and do not feel their salaries should be public — even if it is public information.

“There is no reason for this intrusion,” one person wrote.

But amid the chorus of anger, I received emails from readers — including TVA workers — who think the newspaper should publish the salary list.

“As a TVA employee I applaud the effort ... keep up the good work,” one reader wrote.

Another reader commented: “TVA employees whose median income is $74,465 surely have the means to search for and read Title 5 of the U.S. Code, or their own site’s good summary at We’re coming up on 50 years of this law essential for us to be a democracy.”

A writer who described himself as a “proud TVA retiree” said this:

“I understand why some individuals are hesitant to have their salaries posted, but most are what I would call excuses for not wanting the information to go public. ... When I worked for TVA I would have appreciated if salaries would have been posted. I was proud of the work I had accomplished and thought I was paid fairly.”

Many TVA workers seem OK with our publishing their bosses’ salaries, they just don’t want theirs known.

“Publishing executive compensation is one thing, publishing the salaries of all workers is another,” one person wrote.

Another asked: “Do we really need to be transparent with a janitor’s pay? ... Why not just pick VP level and higher?”

A TVA engineers’ union also has said the release of employee salaries to the newspaper is “an unjust action” and that publishing it is a “brutal attack on federal workers and their unions.”

Many suggested that the newspaper publish the salaries of employees holding management positions or only the highest earners, or that we publish salary ranges without identifying individual workers.

Like many newspapers, the Times Free Press dedicates a section of its website to information that is publicly available, including the salaries of nearly 127,000 public employees in Tennessee and Georgia. It seems unfair to publish the names and salaries of other public workers but to leave some of that information off the TVA list.

This section of our website,, has been up since 2010. It prompted some complaints from employees of other public agencies when their salaries first went up, too, but nothing like the ferocity of TVA workers’ responses.

One TVA worker said she was “disappointed and disgusted” that the newspaper would put the salaries online.

“Publicizing salary information that should be private serves no productive purpose,” she wrote. “Thanks to you and your paper the TVA workplace atmosphere will be negatively impacted.”

I hope any negativity won’t last long.

A woman whose salary was listed on the paper’s website because she worked in a local public sector job made this comment about the furor at TVA: “It creates hostility at first but when the dust settles, it might be good in the long run.”

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
valleyman said...

I've still yet to see any TVA plant managers salaries released. So much for transparency. I think this may be the real story. Times Free Press leaves out information based on TVA pressure or TVA selectively uses the FOIA act for own benefit?

March 16, 2012 at 12:52 p.m.
Fedup6789 said...

Why did you leave so many off the list? If it is supposed to be all TVA employees, it should be ALL employees. It seems your reporting isn't complete or accurate. Seems like shady reporting to me. Have any integrity?

March 16, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
TVAdiverguy said...

Ms. Gerber,

We're all still waiting on you to post Times Free Press employee salaries. Wouldn't that be fair? Because of what Times Free Press asked for and what TVA agreed to, we now have a target on us. I hold both parties accountable. OK, so the FOIA says its public information. Does that mean that our names have to be connected to that salary?
Although, I am currently not a TFP subscriber and now never will be again, my father worked for the Chattanooga Times (before the joining of the two papers in what has resulted in this pitiful excuse for a media outlet) for 40 years and has informed me he will be discontinuing his subscription as well.

March 17, 2012 at 10:31 a.m.
MellissaCook said...

" I hope any negativity won't last long". Good luck with that. I "hoped" you wouldn't publish the salaries. We saw how that turned out.

March 18, 2012 at 8:19 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

As a former military officer, I would remind some people that military and government pay scales have been public knowledge for decades. To understand just how much someone is being paid, compare their pay to similar levels of responsibility in the military.

Military and government pay scales are based on two concepts: rank (level of responsibility for a unit) and experience (pay is bracketed in groups of two years for each rank).

Common base pay examples below.

E-1 to E-4, PVT to SPC: trained worker. Most common form of employee. $24,555.60/year for E-4 with over 2 years.

E-6, Staff Sergeant: responsible for 7 to 12 employees. First level supervisor. $33,267.60/year with about five years experience.

E-7, (SFC) Platoon Sergeant: responsible for 50 to 60 employees. Supervises four units of 7 to 12 employees. $47,714.40/year with 15 years experience.

O-1, Second Lieutenant: lowest ranking officer. Executive responsible for units of 60 employees. Professional legal responsibility for all unit activities. $33,936/year with no experience.

O-2, First Lieutenant: company grade officer. Professional executive with direct leadership experience. $54,115.20/year for over 5 years experience.

O-3, Captain: company commander. Professional executive responsibility for 150 employees. $68,493.60/year for about 10 years experience.

O-5, Lieutenant Colonel : battalion commander. Professional executive responsibility for 500 employees. $87,612/year for about 15 years experience.

O-10, General (Four Star): $179,701.20/year maximum. Max pay at 40 years experience.

Certain key individuals, in atypical postings like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Sergeant Major of the Army, may receive more pay while holding those particular posts.

Highest paid US Military Officer: $247,053.60. (O-10, JCS)

Highest paid US Military Enlisted: $91,314.00. (E-9, SMA)

March 18, 2012 at 8:28 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

If you consult the pay tables for the very old generals, you may notice rates seem higher. However, their pay has been limited by an executive schedule that keeps most of them below $180,000/year. While I'm not an expert on every detail of pay, the references are posted above.

You may notice that the typical civilian, commercial executive often has often fewer than 10 "direct reports." On a military pay scale, that would put him at about Staff Sergeant for $33K.

Why someone at TVA is making about as much as a four star general is beyond me. I suspect that many people in the commercial sector are vastly overpaid. Among servicemen, I think we have found that known pay tables are a blessing in our occupation.

Hidden pays and hidden responsibilities are not good for organizations with jobs that have real responsibility.

March 18, 2012 at 8:51 a.m.
scout29c said...

The publication of TVA salaries proved one rumor that has been floating around TVA for some time. To make money at TVA, you need to either go into management or move around. Management has a higher salary than workers – no news there, that’s to be expected. It’s the salaries of those employees that move around compared to those that stay in one place that proves the rumor.

You can’t tell that just by looking at the TimesFreePress’s list but if you work at TVA, it’s obvious. Simple put: it doesn’t pay to become an expert in any process or task. The money is in moving around or go into management. The news to TVA employees from TFP’s list of salaries: Don’t waste your time becoming an expert or knowledgeable about any task at TVA, move around or go into management.

Two people start work at TVA. One moves around to a different position every three years – but doesn’t go into management – just moves to different jobs at the same level. The other stays at the same job and become an expert. At the end of ten years the one that moved around will make more than the expert. It’s in the salaries listing the TFP was so kind to publish. You can be sure all the ones that have become experts in their field see it, feel really stupid and financially unappreciated.

March 18, 2012 at 7:15 p.m.
Reardon said...

What would be interesting to know is how the pay scale compares to comparable private sector positions.

...Because we all know the underlying belief is that TVA employees are grossly overpaid relative to their workload.

March 18, 2012 at 7:48 p.m.
write2inform said...

The emphasis appears to be on looking up individual names and salaries. If the TFP were really interested in providing information that could be useful, the emphasis should be on Job Title and Company for the search dropdowns. People should be looking for a certain job category at a certain company. Why does the viewer need a name listed anyway? It seems the TFP has a list of names for nosey busy bodies to invade individual’s privacy, instead of making this an informative guide. Take the Names off or make them less important by only listing the first name? Why are you invading the privacy of thousands of people? Do you think this makes people subscribe to the TFP? Are you interesting in making the TFP a competitor to the National Enquirer or the Star?

Make this usable for the job searchers and query by job titles, and forget the names. There are so many names, it is not possible to figure out any pattern based on gender status, race, creed or whatever smokescreen that you purport. What people want to know are job titles and the associated salaries.

March 20, 2012 at 7:38 p.m.
LaurynGraf said... This is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very accurate information… Thank you for sharing this one. A must read article!

November 23, 2013 at 1:45 a.m.
alisadikin said... Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article! It's the little changes that make the most significant changes.

April 10, 2014 at 1:11 a.m.
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