Sanitation workers say mandatory Saturday workday is in violation of city ordinances, federal law

Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 10:40 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Looks like trash will be picked up Saturday after all.

Rumors of a sanitation strike have been swirling this week, but one of the city’s most vocal critics says that’s not true.

“None of us were talking about a strike. No one mentioned a strike,” said Maurice Spivey, solid waste employee.

Spivey, surrounded by a group of other sanitation workers, said Friday there was never any truth to a letter sent to Mayor Jim Strickland dated last Friday from AFSCME leadership that some solid waste workers were attempting to organize a work stoppage Saturday.

AFSCME Local 1733 is a union that represents and bargains on behalf of sanitation workers.

Tuesday Spivey appeared before Memphis city council to ask them to hold off re-appointing Solid Waste Director Al Lamar.

Spivey says low pay and the city's mandatory Saturday work day is in violation of city ordinances and federal law.

“What two or three trucks used to be able to do, now they’re asking one truck to do and we’re men and women. We’re human beings our bodies get tired,” said Spivey.

Spivey showed WMC a memo to all solid waste employees detailing 11 Saturdays workers were required to work in 2020.

The city said under its memorandum of understanding with the union it is allowed to make Saturday a mandatory work day after a holiday.

“So it’s a shame how they treat us,” said Brendia Clark, who has worked 30 years as a sanitation worker for the city.

Clark says she was hurt on the job last June when she fell off a truck and was surprised when she learned she had to come into work Saturday.

“I'm on sick leave and my supervisor call me when I was at therapy a few minutes ago and told me I got to come in, I got to come tomorrow,” said Clark.

Spivey says he’s also upset that sanitation workers will be required to work Saturday, April 4.

“You won’t have to worry about Memphis sanitation workers striking, the citizens are going to shut this city down,” said Spivey.

April 4 is the day Dr. King was assassinated. The civil rights leader came to Memphis in 1968 to protest with sanitation workers who were upset over unfair working conditions and pay.

The city’s Chief Communications Officer released this statement:

“This administration is extremely proud of what we’ve done in partnership with the City Council for our Solid Waste employees. In 2018 during our MLK 50 commemoration, we awarded $70,000 grants to all surviving members of the 1968 sanitation workers. We’ve increased their pay and benefits, such as, for the first time in 50 years, they have a retirement plan equal to all other city employees. Additionally, we’re the only city in the country with a park that’s dedicated solely to honor the work of sanitation employees. Director Lamar is in talks with AFSME to find an agreeable solution to the April 4th holiday. For Mr. Spivey to act outside of his union representation and misrepresent the facts in this way, is a clear example of why he is no longer in an official leadership role with them.”

Spivey's original petition to the union to consider their demands was denied. He says because the union could not verify some of the signatures.

Spivey says he will re-submit the petition and ask for a special general membership meeting.

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