VOL. 133 | NO. 104 | Thursday, May 24, 2018
Council Gives Administration Nod, Honors 1968 Workers
By Bill Dries
The painted image of the late Henry Loeb was mostly ignored Tuesday, May 22, at City Hall as the Memphis City Council honored surviving city sanitation workers from 1968 with its 25th annual Humanitarian of the Year Awards.
A few of the strikers from 50 years ago paused briefly at times to take in the portrait of Loeb – the mayor during the strike and the nemesis of the strikers – at the Hall of Mayors where they and city leaders held an awards reception and posed for pictures together.
The backdrop for the photos were the portraits of Loeb's four successors as mayor on a wall across the room from Loeb's likeness.
While the honors were a bookend of sorts to MLK50 observances that began in February, the strike and the union representing the strikers were a backdrop for key decisions by the current council on its way to setting a budget and property tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
H.B. Crockett, who was among the 1,300 city sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968, was among those honored by the Memphis City Council Tuesday, May 22, at a reception in the Hall of Mayors that features a portrait of the late Henry Loeb – the mayor who refused to bargain with or recognize the union representing the strikers 50 years ago. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
The current council had a solid seven-vote majority Tuesday that approved the city’s final offer in contract impasses with 13 employee groups and the unions that represent them. The unions include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – the union that represented the strikers in 1968.
“You cannot honor city employees … and yet 50 years later treat these employees the same way they did 50 years ago,” said Deborah Godwin, attorney for the Memphis Police Association. “So how far have we really come?”
In just about every one of the 13 impasses, the city’s last offer is for a performance bonus or pay plan.
“Please do not be fooled. The city of Memphis has not offered police officers a performance bonus,” Godwin told the council before its vote on the police impasse. “There is no program. There is only a concept. … It is a complete unknown.”
The surviving strikers from the 1968 sanitation workers strike pose Tuesday in the Hall of Mayors with the current Memphis City Council as the council awarded the strikers its annual Humanitarian of the Year award. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
Council member Worth Morgan argued there was a case to be made for a pay raise for police, but the union wasn’t making it. Instead, he faulted the union for saying the performance pay would be based on ticket-writing and other quotas.
“Why are you saying performance evaluations are illegal?” he asked Godwin. “It’s not even settled what the evaluations will use.”
He accused the union of exploiting “a fear that doesn’t exist.”
“You start putting it out here to the public,” he said.
“No one has to put it out there. It’s obvious,” Godwin replied.
The city council honored more than a dozen survivors of the 1968 sanitation workers strike Tuesday, May 22, with the council’s 25th annual Humanitarian of the Year award. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
“It’s not obvious,” Morgan countered.
As the debate continued on what police performance evaluations would be based on, Morgan drew jeers from the audience when he cited recent pay raises and retention bonuses police have received in the last two fiscal years.
“This is not a Grizzlies game,” Morgan said.
Memphis Fire Fighters Association president Thomas Malone said the city’s performance pay concept doesn’t have an identifiable measure of pay for an identifiable measure of performance. And he argued such incentives are difficult to identify when it comes to fire and police.
“I hate to break it to you, but the city of Memphis is not a corporation,” Malone told the council. “Our raise is going to cost – I’m not hiding from it – $2.2 million. That’s less than two pennies on the roll. You gave pre-K one penny.”
Council member Bill Morrison said firefighters should have been among the unions the city offered to take the performance pay measure off the table for in exchange for no pay raise – a swap several union leaders told the council they would have accepted.
“There is no better partner than the fire union. They have taken it in the gut when they didn’t get anything,” Morrison said. “And I am a little shocked that I am hearing that the city offered something to some unions but not to what I think has been a pretty good partner. … This is how it gets bad.”
The administration stuck to a basic argument that most of the employee groups made more than similar employees in other cities, as shown in market studies, or were only marginally under the market average.
The unions disputed the validity of the market studies.
The administration also said the offer to take performance pay off the table was made to all unions when they came in to talk face-to-face to settle the impasses before they went to the council to pick one final offer or the other, with nothing in between.
Council chairman Berlin Boyd also questioned how the city made the offer. But he remained part of the seven-vote majority for the city’s final offer in each case.
“It’s not there,” Boyd said of a raise. “Looking through this budget … I will say I have made some cuts to departments, but there isn’t a lot of meat in the budget to give so that’s the reason why this council member this year hasn’t presented an increase across the board.”
Budget committee chairman Edmund Ford Jr. said if all of the final offers from the unions had been approved by the council it would have added $10.1 million to the city’s operating budget. Ford and Boyd said those favoring the union final offer should have to cut their budgets in other places to pay for it or advocate for a property tax hike.
The last impasse decision Tuesday was on four different employee groups all represented by AFSCME.
AFSCME chief negotiator Michael Messina didn’t mention the 1968 strike.
“You don’t need to find the money,” he told the council. “That’s what the mayor’s staff does. Your job is to vote on this matter to determine if it is justified, reasonable and if the city can afford it. Period. … You have money.”
Council member Janis Fullilove who voted for the union’s final offer in every one of the 13 impasse resolution votes, accused the administration of lying about the city’s financial position.
“I am very ashamed of many of you,” she told the council. “And I say that because with the unions you could have given them something. But you didn’t do it.”