City of Memphis trash crews left out of mayor’s plan for raises

Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 10:16 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A battle is brewing between the City of Memphis and the union that represents the men and women who pick up the Bluff City’s trash.

On Tuesday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland proposed a new budget of $716 million which is $8 million more than last year’s budget.

It contains pay raises for some city workers. And the ones left out of the budget have something to say about it.

“We are on the front line,” said Gail Tyree, Executive Director of AFSCME Local 1733. “We consider ourselves the essential workers of the City of Memphis.”

There was plenty of anger and frustration outside AFSCME headquarters in Downtown Memphis on Wednesday. The union represents nearly 1,000 city employees who work in General Services, Parks, Public Works and the Solid Waste division.

“We have worked through this pandemic,” said Tyree. “We have done some of the nastiest, dirtiest jobs. But we get zero!”

Strickland’s budget proposal includes $7 million to give commissioned police and fire employees a 2% pay raise. There are no pay raises included for the AFSCME workers.

“I wish I could give all city employees a raise for the incredible service they deliver to our citizens each day,” said Strickland. “But unfortunately, each year we have a finite number of resources.”

Tyree said she doesn’t begrudge police officers or firefighters getting a raise. But her members, she said, deserve to be compensated for their hard work, too.

“You cannot take care of the defense and give nothing to the offense because you won’t make it the Super Bowl, Mr. Mayor,” said Tyree.

AFSCME and the Strickland administration are still working on a memorandum of understanding between the union and the city. Union leaders say the city proposed a 1-year extension of the current contract with no pay increase.

AFSCME would like a 2-year extension with a 5% raise for 813 employees. The total cost for that, Tyree said, is about $2.5 million.

More than a fair price to pay, she said, for a city that just dealt with serious delays in trash pick-up from former contractor Waste Pro and for AFSCME members who helped pick up the slack in the interim.

“These are the people who are on the front line,” said Tyree. “And if we don’t work, the city would be in a hot mess.”

Strickland says the city’s allowed to use $16 million from federal relief money to give premium pay or bonuses to essential workers. No word if the city will use any of that money to compensate AFSCME employees.

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