VOL. 126 | NO. 134 | Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Municipal Unions Sue Over Budget
By Bill Dries
A coalition of labor unions representing city employees filed a lawsuit in Memphis federal court Monday, July 11, over the recently approved 4.6 percent cut in city employees pay and a $13 million voluntary buyout of city sanitation workers.
Both measures were approved last month as part of the overall city operating budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
In the lawsuit, which the unions hope to make a class action lawsuit, the unions claim the pay cut violates the city’s impasse ordinance and represents a change in the contracts and memoranda of understanding with different city employee groups with whom the administration negotiates. It also seeks to include non-union city employees in the action.
Because the contract terms allegedly changed, the unions contend in the lawsuit “the city deprived the unions of their right to petition the city council for redress under the impasse ordinance.” And that, the unions contend, violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“By unilaterally reducing the compensation and benefits of its employees, in violation of the economic terms mutually accepted and established pursuant to the impasse ordinance, the city deprived its employees of a property interest without due process, in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit also claims.
The lawsuit, announced at a Monday morning rally outside City Hall by union leaders, represents an escalation in what had been post-budget season recriminations by some council members who claimed they were confused about what they voted to approve.
The legal action, filed by union attorneys Deborah Godwin and Timothy Taylor, makes formal a move to reopen the budget process and put it under court-ordered review.
The unions are seeking a preliminary injunction and later a permanent injunction barring the city from enacting the pay cut and the sanitation workers buyout without going through the impasse procedure. They also want compensatory and punitive damages.
“We’re plowing new territory here,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said when asked about the lawsuit Monday morning. “I respect the legal process. That’s the way to do it.”
City Council chairman Myron Lowery said, “That’s what the courts are for. I understand their frustrations and concerns. When you feel you are right, you need an objective party to decide the matter.”
The council’s budget vote last month included lots of behind the scenes conversations during the meeting in which agreements were made on items like the buyout as well as an 18 cent one time hike in city property tax hikes.
The pay cut for all city employees was originally supposed to come by making city employees take 12 of their 13 holidays without pay. The Wharton administration later indicated it could get the savings with a pay cut or through other methods the unions might agree to.