City officials cautiously optimistic sanitation workers will not participate in unauthorized strike Saturday

Updated: Jan. 23, 2020 at 4:50 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thursday a spokesperson said the City of Memphis is cautiously optimistic sanitation workers will not walk off the job Saturday, after word circulated of a strike within the past week, that the sanitation workers’ union did not authorize.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s office declined an on-camera interview Thursday, but city officials said they hope the issue has been resolved and that work will go on as planned this weekend.

Earlier this week, solid waste employee Maurice Spivey raised concerns to the Memphis City Council about the reappointment of the city’s director of the Division of Solid Waste, Al Lamar. Lamar’s nomination was approved Tuesday.

“We are working under tyrannical circumstances,” Spivey told the council.

In a letter dated last Friday, AFSCME leadership said efforts to speak before the council were unauthorized, along with the work stoppage by multiple solid waste employees scheduled for this Saturday January 25.

Thursday the city said under its memorandum of understanding with the union, the MLK holiday on Monday allows them to make Saturday a mandatory work day for trash pickup.

Given the union’s letter, city officials pointed to the charter and the decades-old provision which deals with an unauthorized work stoppage, without going through proper labor impasse channels.

“Any municipal employee who participates in a strike as herein defined shall by conclusively deemed to have resigned his appointment or employment with the City,” the ordinance reads.

The city’s Division of Solid Waste has been under the microscope since late December over a backlog of lawn debris and yard waste, which the city blamed on the timing of the leaves falling this autumn. Mayor Jim Strickland has publicly apologized, and outside contractors have been hired in to help with pickup.

Some sanitation workers have claimed the mayor is pushing for more privatization within the department. But city officials maintain that is not the case, pointing to the spending last year of $15 million in reserves to buy equipment and create the new solid waste division.

Memphis City Council members also hiked solid waste fees in December after the mayor threatened staff layoffs without an increase in cash.

AFSCME officials said Thursday afternoon any workers who participated in a work stoppage Saturday would be resigning their employment with the city.

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