Friday, July 1, 2011

Mayor Wharton and City Council Dismantle Workers' Rights, Threaten Living Wage

    In case you missed it, the budget agreement passed by the Memphis City Council last week slammed the City's rank and file workers hard. 125 workers are going to be laid off. Sanitation workers will be offered buyouts, with the goal of reducing the department (which is currently contributing to the city's general fund) down to half its size. Death benefits were taken away from workers, though the City announced yesterday some of those benefits would be restored. Twelve of the thirteen paid holidays workers had were taken away.
    In their haste to pass a budget package - which is still not in writing, by the way - the Council ignored Councilman Joe Brown's assertion that workers' paid holidays were guaranteed by a City ordinance. Now that Mayor Wharton's administration has realized Councilman Brown was right, they're telling the City's rank and file workers they will have to accept a 4.6 percent salary cut.
   This salary cut comes after all the city's unions already negotiated pay and work agreements with the City this spring. In those agreements, workers went without any raises and agreed to absorb health insurance premium increases themselves. The unions upheld their responsibility to negotiate with the City in good faith, and now the City is trying to undo the agreements they've already come to with their workers.
    The agreements between the unions and the City are called memoranda of understanding. They include a procedure for dealing with situations of fiscal emergency. This procedure requires Mayor Wharton's administration to show their books to the unions to prove that a real hardship exists. So far, Mayor Wharton has been unwilling to do this. Instead his administration has urged the unions to "come to the table," without having key knowledge about what the City's financial situation really is.
    Furthermore, the Mayor's proposed 4.6 percent salary cut endangers the living wage resolution that the City Council passed in 2006, in which permanent City workers are to be paid at least $10 an hour. In 2007, the City Council passed another resolution promising temporary City workers at least $12 an hour because they do not receive any kinds of benefits. There are very likely workers being paid right at $10 and $12 an hour right now, and the pay cuts would violate the promise to pay a living wage.
     It's time for the citizens of Memphis to call on Mayor Wharton and City Council members to act in good faith with their workers.
    Here's how you can help:
  • Call Mayor Wharton's office at (901) 576-6000 and the City Council office at 576-6786. Tell them a pay cut for the city's rank and file workers is unacceptable. Urge the City to neogiate in good faith with workers' unions.
  • Come to the City Council meeting this Tuesday, July 5th at 3:30 p.m.
    No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks with the budget, this attack on the hard-working people who keep our city running is not over. We're working on long-term plans to address this attack, so keep your eyes open for more news from us soon.

   Special thanks to Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and Chad Johnson at AFSCME Local 1733 for their monitoring and reporting on all the budget developments with the City Council. I am drawing heavily on their work in this post.
Want to take action with workers seeking justice  and keep up to date on what's happening with City workers? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

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