Dozens of trash collectors refused to work in Friday's frigid temps

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The city of Memphis and its sanitation employees are at odds over whether they should be required to work outside during a deep freeze.

For the first time in at least 18 years, more than a third of the city's refuse collectors decided to act on an agreement Friday that they believe allows them to refuse to pick up trash in bitter cold temperatures. But the public works director says, not so fast.

Trash sat on the curb of many Memphis streets for four days straight. It started Friday morning, with temperatures in the low teens, 174 refuse collectors went home, instead heading into the bitter cold.

Public Works Director Dwan Gilliom hit the streets Monday afternoon to make sure all of Friday's trash was picked up by Monday evening.

"This is a Friday route, if you look around you can see clearly none of the garbage and trash was picked up Friday," Gilliom said.

It didn't get picked up because dozens of employees believed they had the right not to work in the frigid temperatures. AFSCME President Ruth Davis points to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Union and the city.

It says, "in cases of snow, ice conditions, rain, storms, or tornadoes, or temperatures of fifteen degrees Fahrenheit and under, employees who reported on schedule shall be assigned a minimum four hours of work inside or be excused from duty, with four hours pay..."

"All we want the city to do is abide by what the memorandum of understanding says," Davis said.

Gilliom also points to the Memorandum, which goes on to say, "...except in cases of emergency or when required to maintain or restore service to citizens."

"What would happen in this city if you had four to five days with temperatures 15 degrees or below?" Gilliom said.

An arbitrator could decide as early as Tuesday if these employees will be required to brave future deep freezes, or if trash cans can wait.

The Deputy Director of Public Works says he couldn't find another city where solid waste employees didn't go out in the bitter cold last week.

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