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VOL. 132 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 7, 2017

Memphis Announces Grants for Remaining 1968 Sanitation Workers

By Bill Dries

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A group of 14 city sanitation workers from 1968 – four still working for the city and 10 who are retired – will be getting $50,000 grants from the city, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced Thursday, July 6.

The grants to workers from the historic sanitation workers strike that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis total $700,000. The city is adding $210,000 separate from the grants to pay the taxes on the grants.

The grants are to be administered by First Tennessee Bank and Operation HOPE, a financial literacy and advocacy organization. Each will provide financial guidance to the recipients.

The grants are paired with a supplemental retirement plan for other sanitation workers hired since the strike.

The funding comes from the city’s general fund reserves and the plan goes to the Memphis City Council Tuesday for approval.

In a post on Medium Thursday, Strickland wrote that the city will fund a 4.5 percent match of the Social Security and deferred compensation plans the sanitation workers currently have.

Employees with 20 years or more of service will see every dollar they put into the deferred compensation plan matched with $1.50 from the city up to three percent of a worker’s salary.

Strickland said his administration has been working on the plan since the fall.

“It’s imperative that the city of Memphis do the right thing by these men who sacrificed so much on the mission that brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to our city in the spring of 1968,” Strickland wrote.

The announcement comes as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the strike and King’s assassination in April 2018.

The issue of retirement or post-employment pay for city sanitation workers has repeatedly surfaced at City Hall in the last 39 years since the city recognized the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – AFSCME – in 1968.

With the recognition, the workers were given the choice of Social Security or a city pension. The workers through the union chose Social Security in an environment in which the city administration only reluctantly recognized AFSCME. Some workers and union leaders feared a future city administration might somehow take back a pension plan but would not be able to take away Social Security compensation.

As a result, the Social Security money has not been enough for many of those sanitation workers to retire. And federal law doesn’t permit those in its plan to leave it to switch to a pension plan.

All new hires in the Solid Waste division as of 1999 were in the city’s pension plan for a year before the conversion was ruled illegal

The city created a deferred compensation plan in 1995 to supplement Social Security.

PROPERTY SALES 49 123 2,388
MORTGAGES 77 171 2,778
BUILDING PERMITS 174 284 6,352
BANKRUPTCIES 32 72 1,859