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Trump orders firing of TVA board chair, one member, advocates replacing CEO

In remarks issued Aug. 3, during signing of an executive order to Hire American, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced he is “taking firm, disciplinary action against the leadership of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has sadly and cruelly betrayed American workers.”

Trump said that Jeffrey Lyash, chief executive officer of TVA, “recently … made a disastrous and heartless decision. The TVA announced that it would lay off over 200 American workers and replace them with cheaper foreign workers brought in from overseas.” He says leadership ordered the American workers to train their foreign replacements.

Trump said he was “finalizing H-1B regulations so that no American worker is replaced ever again. H1-Bs should be used for top, highly paid talent to create American jobs, not as inexpensive labor program to destroy American jobs.”

The H-1B is a visa under the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. A specialty occupation requires the application of specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent of work experience. The duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years; after which the visa holder may need to reapply.

During his remarks Trump said he was formally removing Chairman of the Board James Thompson and board member Richard Howorth and that if TVA does not “move swiftly to reverse their decision to rehire their workers,” he will remove more board members.

Trump also said the board must immediately hire a new CEO who “puts the interest of American workers first.” He said Lyash “is ridiculously overpaid,” earning $8 million a year, making him “the highest-paid government official of any country anywhere in the world.”

“Public service is just that: Those who takes these jobs must be focused on the public good, not on personal profit,” Trump said. He asserts the new CEO be paid no more than $500,000 a year. He also said the board “must work to ensure the CEO does not receive a lavish compensation package upon his departure, too.”

Trump said he wants the savings, in the form of the CEO’s much lower salary, to go to the people of the states in TVA’s service territory, in the form of energy savings.

The jobs being eliminated at TVA appear to have been in the technical support field. Kevin Lynn, founder of U.S. Tech Workers, spoke during the signing and said, “On behalf of U.S. Tech Workers and the Tennessee Valley Authority, we appreciate your willingness to look at the endangered jobs of the Tennessee Valley Authority workers, especially in a time of pandemic and an election year.”

Several TVA employees affected by TVA’s jobs decision spoke as well, including the system administrator on TVA’s core team responsible for installing a $20 million computer system. According to him, on July 23, the information technology leadership “decided our team and a total of 40 workers would be terminated and our work done by others.” He said this brings the total planned outsourced jobs to more than 200 in TVA IT alone and said he believed there are more planned to come. He indicated the three companies chosen to do the IT work “are all three foreign companies that depend heavily on H-1B workers.”

Another TVA employee speaking during the order signing said the outsourcing agreement “could impact the Valley by $88 million to these local economies here.”

During his remarks, Trump indicated that Lyash had placed a telephone call to the administration and “indicated a very strong willingness to reverse course.”

TVA has released a response to the executive order:

“We understand and support today’s Executive Order. We want to ensure that U.S. employees have good opportunities through our employment and supply chain practices. We look forward to working with the White House, continuing a dialogue and supporting future policies in this direction.

All TVA employees are U.S. based citizens. All jobs related to TVA’s Information Technology department must be performed in the U.S. by individuals who may legally work in this country.

TVA’s mission of service is as relevant today as it was nearly 90 years ago when it was created…to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley to make life better. Collectively, our 10,000 employees across seven states are committed – each and every day – to improving the quality of life for the 10 million people we serve.

As a federal corporation, TVA’s Board members serve at the pleasure of the President. The Board’s by-laws allow for the Board to continue its oversight function with the loss of one or more of its members.

TVA’s mission and operations are driven by the TVA Act. This congressional statute mandates providing reliable energy at the lowest reasonable cost; managing natural resources responsibly; and promoting economic development. In its 2019 fiscal year alone, TVA reliably supplied more than 158 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy, 54% of which came from carbon-free sources; effectively managed the 653-mile Tennessee River system while preventing more than $1 billion in flood damage; and help attract or retain more than 66,000 jobs and almost $9 billion in capital investment to the Tennessee Valley.”

TVA provides electricity for business customers and local power companies serving nearly 10 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA derives virtually all of its revenues from sales of electricity. Of the 73 generating sites TVA owns, 29 are conventional hydroelectric plants and one is a pumped storage facility. In Fiscal Year 2020, hydro accounted for 10% of TVA’s overall electricity generation.