MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Hundreds of layoffs and a major reduction in city trash services. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says more than 200 sanitation workers will lose their jobs in the new year if the Solid Waste division doesn’t get more funding from the city council.
Memphis just pumped $15 million dollars into improving what has been a highly criticized city service. Mayor Strickland says this new level of service now requires more money to maintain. And when a mayor talks about firing sanitation workers in a city where sanitation workers are such an important part of our history, people listen.
"We were stunned about that announcement," said Gail Tyree, Executive Director of AFSCME 1733, the union representing Memphis sanitation workers. "We found out about the layoffs the same way every citizen in the city found out."
Strickland dropped the bombshell in his weekly newsletter Friday afternoon, saying 199 full-time and 75 part-time solid waste workers will have to be let go after Jan. 6, 2020 because city council voted down a proposed trash fee increase at its meeting last Tuesday.
"We're hoping at some point to sit down with the mayor and the division director," said Tyree, "to come to some sort of agreement. Nobody wants to see people laid off and lose their jobs during the holiday season."
Councilman Martavius Jones was one of six council members (out of 12, with one member absent) who voted “yes” to a $7.16 trash fee hike, which would raise the current fee of $22.80 up to $29.96. His reasoning: the trash fee was actually lowered several years ago. The citizens of Memphis, he believes, could stomach a price increase if they get quality service in return.
"I want a clean city," he told WMC Action News 5, "and I think taxpayers are not getting the services they're paying for right now. We have to provide better services and then they'll be o.k. with paying that higher rate."
Without more funding, Mayor Strickland says recycling would only get picked up once a month, and nothing outside the trash cart would get collected.
The comments poured out on social media after the mayor's announcement started to make the rounds.
"I can see piles of discarded items on the curb," tweeted Granjacke901, "the old mattresses will be a lovely sight for visitors."
"I'm happy to pay a rate increase," Courtney Santo wrote in her tweet, "this is insane."
And Kevin White tweeted: "I wonder how the council thinks we can keep a high level of services without increasing taxes sometimes."
The future of nearly 300 sanitation workers now hangs in the balance.
"I would not go so far as to say they're being used as pawns," said Tyree, "but they are going to be the ones to suffer if indeed we don't get the rate increase."
Councilman Kemp Conrad, who also voted for the increase, says the council will likely vote again at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 17. When asked if he thinks that hundreds of workers will lose their jobs, he replied: “No. Absolutely, categorically, not.”
Conrad thinks some of the council members who voted “no” may change their votes, or another compromise will be reached.