Community activists push back on Oracle deal

    Conceptual rendering of the Oracle campus in Nashville courtesy of Mayor John Cooper's office.
    Conceptual rendering of the Oracle campus in Nashville courtesy of Mayor John Cooper's office.

    Community organizers are asking Metro Nashville to postpone an agreement with the technology giant Oracle, saying there are too many questions about how the company’s relocation here will affect local residents already suffering from rising living costs.  

    Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance held a rally Monday to protest what they see as a deal done behind closed doors without considering the potential impact on the Nashville residents. The groups seek  union contracts for the construction phase, an $18-an-hour minimum wage and commitments to hire local minority residents.

    “We have not done business in a way that protects our city,” said Tequila Johnson, co-founder of the Equity Alliance and member of the Metro Nashville Industrial Development Board.

    Tequila Johnson, co-executive director, The Equity Alliance, called for Metro to slow action on the Oracle deal. She sits on the Industrial Development Board, which will hold a public hearing on the project.
    Tequila Johnson, co-executive director, The Equity Alliance, called for Metro to slow action on the Oracle deal. She sits on the Industrial Development Board, which will hold a public hearing on the project. (Photo: Submitted)

    Oracle, a software technology company, will be moving their headquarters to Nashville’s East Bank and Cumberland River, bringing 8,500 jobs and investing in public infrastructure totaling $175 million.

    The move has  been hailed as one of the largest development deals for Nashville, and in return, Metro Nashville will reimburse half of Oracle’s investment by writing off collection of  property taxes for 25 years. 

    Charlane Oliver, co-founder of the Equity Alliance,  says that the Oracle deal can bring many good benefits to Nashville, but “it’s not going far enough.” She added her concerns that Oracle has a track record of employing about 2.5% Black workers.

    There are too many unanswered questions, added Odessa Kelly, executive director and a founder of Stand Up Nashville. Stand Up Nashville represents Nashville’s working-class communities and union members  and the organization’s website lists the Central Labor Council as its only member organization. 

    Kelly, who is running for Congress against incumbent Democrat Jim Cooper,  questioned whether the company will provide funding for public schools, how the tech company will affect residents who are digitally disadvantaged, and whether there’s been outreach to local communities for their feedback. 

    Advocates are also worried that the 8,500 jobs will go mostly to transplants instead of locals and “increase our living costs, increase traffic and who don’t pay their fair share of taxes while hurting affordable housing,” said Oliver.

    But city officials said they are putting plans in place to address many of the complaints. Councilwoman at Large  Zulfat Suara has proposed the city spend a significant portion of property tax revenues from Oracle’s investment- about $9 million a year- on affordable housing. Mayor John Cooper has voiced his support for Suara’s proposal and expressed desire to fund affordable housing with a portion of the new revenue, said Cooper’s spokesperson, Andrea Fanta.

    Oracle has made plans to bring their Oracle Academy computing curriculum to Metro schools to prepare students for future STEM careers. 

    Johnson alleged there’s little information available on the project. 

    “No one can answer those questions, so we need more time, not just to demand accountability from Oracle but to demand accountability and responsibility from me,” said Johnson. 

    Johnson is member of the Metro Nashville Industrial Development Board, which will hold a public meeting today at 10 a.am.  There will also be deliberations before the Budget & Finance Committee and the full Metro Council. 

    Cooper is expected to share more details about how Oracle’s investments will affect education and affordable housing in his FY2022 budget proposal at the State of Metro on Thursday morning.District 5 Councilmember Sean Parker said the city needs to prepare for further gentrification by finding solutions, such as increasing living wages, although a state law prohibits cities and counties from establishing local minimum wages above the federal minimum wage. Stand Up Nashville, Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, and Memphis For All, among others, have recently called for the removal of preemptive state laws dealing with living wages, local pay, paid sick leave and affordable housing.