Negotiations over: City Council to decide between city and union offers

A major development at City Hall today involving every union that does business with Memphis government: City Council members learned today that mediation is officially off, and that it will be up to them to make the tough decisions that will affect 22 city unions.

Chief Administrative Officer Keith McGee broke the news that negations are over, and there will be no mediation.  The City Council now must decide whether there will be small raises or no raises for the city's 22 unions.

"We would always like to reach an agreement," McGee said, "but sometimes that does not happen."

For months, union leaders have been debating dollars. City administrators have promised no layoffs, but are also offering no raises.

Two weeks ago, they reached impasse. But instead of going to mediation, City Council members learned they would have to vote for either the City's best offer or the Union's best offer.

It means Council members will have to break into committees. 22 of them, one for each union. And it means much of May will be spent in meetings.

"We would have liked to settle this at the table and for the administration to have put this on the backs of the City Council," said Joe Norman of the Memphis Fire Union. "To settle 22 labor agreements at the last minute is certainly unfair to the labor unions, and is certainly unfair to the City Council."

But Councilman Tom Marshall says it's worse for the Council, having to weigh in at the 11th hour with all the responsibility and none of the wiggle room.

"Ultimately, the council becomes the ultimate arbiter of all contracts, labor contracts, for the city of Memphis," Marshall said. "I think Council members are concerned that that's becoming too much the routine instead of the exception."

The process begins in three weeks,and the timing couldn't be worse. Council members will break into committees on the same day the Mayor brings them next year's budget. It is likely that budget will include the City's lowest offer.

If the Council does decide to give raises, they will have to find the money for them.