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VOL. 132 | NO. 138 | Thursday, July 13, 2017

Additional Sanitation Workers May Get Benefits

By Bill Dries

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“I Am a Man Remix” mural pays tribute to the historic strike by sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Brieg)

The city of Memphis had 1,100 sanitation workers when the historic strike began in February 1968, with close to 1,000 of them walking off the job following the grisly deaths of two of their own trapped in the grinder of a garbage truck in East Memphis.

That count is according to “At The River I Stand,” the definitive account of the strike published in 1985 by Joan Turner Beifuss.

As the 50th anniversary of the strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis on behalf of the strikers, approaches, the city’s count of how many sanitation workers are still alive from 1968 is still in doubt.

The city estimated there were 14 surviving sanitation workers who were on the payroll in 1968, including four who still work for the city.

And a $50,000 grant for each of those 14, as well as a supplemental retirement 401(a) retirement account for current sanitation workers hired since 1968, was approved Tuesday, July 11, by the Memphis City Council.

Meanwhile, city officials have been hearing from others who say they, too, were on the payroll at city sanitation in 1968.

“We have learned there are others that potentially exist,” city public works director Robert Knecht told council members Tuesday, July 11. “We are cleaning that up to make sure we have everyone. … There could be six to seven maybe.”

Knecht said a union list from 2014 showed 23 workers from 1968 were still alive and that one of the 14 listed last week when Mayor Jim Strickland announced his proposal died three years ago apparently after that list was compiled.

If there are additional sanitation workers from 1968, the administration would send a new resolution to the council for approval that includes them in the grant program.

At the end of the strike that brought King to the city in support of the strikers, the city recognized the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as the union representing the workers. They were offered a choice of becoming part of the city’s pension system or Social Security and they chose Social Security.

Over the years, the union and sanitation workers have tried to reverse the decision. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton did switch the workers to the city pension plan for a year starting in 1999, but then the city was told by federal officials it couldn’t do that.


“We can never make up the sacrifices that these individuals made financially because they stepped up and went above the call of duty to do things and participate and risk their lives,” council chairman Berlin Boyd said. “There’s no other administration that has stepped up to try to find a solution to a decision that their union told them would be the best decision. … That was a poor decision made by their union in 1968.”

Boyd also said he hoped to increase the contribution, which is now capped at 3 percent of income, in the supplemental plan at a later date.

In other action Tuesday, the council gave final approval to stormwater and sanitary sewer fees over the next five years. The actions effectively close out the city’s budget season a month after the council gave final approval of operating and capital budgets as well as the city property tax rate.

Council members delayed action on both increases because of concerns about the hike in the stormwater fees.

Council member Martavius Jones talked with the administration about a smaller fee hike.

The amended version approved Tuesday changes the balance of bond debt versus cash to finance $150 million in public works capital projects the city must do under a federal court consent decree.

The bonds will finance approximately 70 percent of the cost and the remaining 30 percent comes from fee revenues, including the increase in the stormwater fee. The lower percentage for the cash share of the financing led to a lower increase in the fee, which takes effect starting in January.

Council members delayed to their July 25 meeting a third and final vote on an ordinance that would set grounds rules for booting cars on private property, primarily paid parking lots.

The ordinance changes the fee companies are allowed to charge to remove the boot that prevents a car from being driven. The current fee is $125. The new fee in the proposal would be $50. Parking lot owners and tow truck company operators complained the new rate is too low.

“This happens on a daily basis. My life has been threatened every day,” said Kenneth Barbie, who dispatches teams to boot cars and then deals with those who have had their cars booted. “All we’re trying to do is protect our clients’ parking. They have a right to make money off what they do.”

Some of those opposed to the current proposal compared the need for booting cars to battling shoplifters.

“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t need a boot company,” said George Pappas, the owner of Best Park. “I’m offering a service … I expect people to pay.”

When they don’t, the boot is an alternative to towing. Pappas said he agreed that $125 is “steep.”

“But really it all starts with the customer,” he added. “A $50 fee is way too low. I think a fairer fee is $75, which the city charges.”

Jones said the fee to remove a boot in Nashville is currently $50. He also said the city uses a boot for cars whose drivers have multiple unpaid traffic tickets.

PROPERTY SALES 84 275 3,673
MORTGAGES 41 139 2,418
BANKRUPTCIES 23 79 1,983