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VOL. 129 | NO. 141 | Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mays Dismisses Unions' Claim Against City

By Bill Dries

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U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays has dismissed a 3-year-old lawsuit filed by 13 labor unions representing city employees against the city of Memphis for the 4.6 percent pay cut all city employees took that year.


With the matter set for trial in September, Mays granted the city’s motion for dismissal Monday, July 21, in an order published Tuesday.

Mays ruling comes as leaders of two of the unions, the Memphis Police Association and the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, have said they intend to take the city to court over changes in health insurance benefits approved in June by the Memphis City Council, with proposed pension changes scheduled for a council vote in October.

“The city’s action is a classic example of the legislative process,” Mays ruled on the 2011 pay cut, referring to the decision to cut the pay of all city employees making less than $85,000 a year.

“As citizens, each city employee and member of the unions had a right to petition the city council to reject the budget and deny the pay reduction. Many did so. Although they lost, they received ‘all the process that is due’ under the law,” Mays wrote using a phrase from one of the previous court rulings he cited in the dismissal.

The unions argued the pay cut violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as the impasse ordinance procedure for resolving deadlocks in labor negotiations, which is also an amendment to the city charter.

Attorneys for the union specifically argued that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration agreed to pay levels in memoranda of understanding with the labor unions in negotiations but then presented a budget proposal to the City Council that didn’t fund the agreements.

“Despite lengthy discovery, there is no evidence that the mayor promised to present a budget to the city council that fully funded the wage terms of the MOUs,” Mays concluded. “The record demonstrates that the MOUs were negotiated under the mutual understanding that the city council might later reduce wages. The MOUs do not preclude a wage reduction.”

In reviewing the bargaining process that led to the agreements, Mays noted that the city never ruled out a pay cut and only agreed that there would be no wage increase.

He also said the union’s interpretation of the impasse ordinance designed to resolve contract bargaining disputes with a committee made up of three council members would put the procedure in conflict with the city charter.

The unions argued the pay cut was a future action prohibited once issues at impasse are decided by the impasse committee.

But Mays held that an action by the City Council after negotiations have ended is not prohibited because the charter trumps the impasse procedure.

“The charter amendment that mandated the creation of an impasse procedure did not sanction any procedure that would undermine the city council’s authority to pass a budget,” he wrote. “Under the charter, any terms of the MOUs negotiated by the Mayor’s office are conditional on the City Council’s willingness to fund those terms.”

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