MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - If you thought the bags of leaves and limbs piling up on your street were bad, just wait. There’s word now that some Memphis sanitation workers are planning an unauthorized strike.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland recently apologized to constituents for the major delay in picking up leaves and curbside debris, and he promised swift action to remedy the situation. But now his administration is dealing with the threat of sanitation workers walking off the job.
The mayor’s mea culpa came on the heels of a $7 hike in the city trash fee.
Memphians were promised a higher level of service for about $30 a month, up from $22 and change.
Strickland said without the increase, hundreds of sanitation workers would lose their jobs and the trash service Memphians had come to expect would be drastically scaled back. Recycling, he said, would only be picked up once a month, instead of weekly.
City council approved the increase in December with little fanfare or objection from the citizenry. But when customers’ bagged leaves weren’t getting picked up, and the holidays came and went without any relief, 311 became clogged with complaints. The city blamed the timing of the leaves falling from the trees for the problems with prompt pick-up, saying that because all the leaves fell at the same time this fall, it created a challenge for crews.
Mayor Strickland told Memphians he was sorry and was working to rectify the situation, even going out one weekend to help sanitation crews collect bagged leaves in front of homes in Cordova. He told taxpayers that city crews would work overtime, and with help from private trash companies, they would get the growing piles of leaves and rotting Christmas trees off city streets by the end of January.
But this week a flyer started circulating, encouraging sanitation workers to go to Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting to protest the reappointment of Albert Lamar as director of the Solid Waste division. City leaders became aware that some sanitation employees planned a work stoppage this Saturday, Jan. 25, a day they’re supposed to work because they were off on Monday, the MLK holiday.
In a letter to Mayor Strickland, AFSCME Local 1733 president Jason Hunter says the union did not sanction a strike and the flyer making the rounds was not approved by any elected or hired representative of the union.
“I assure you and your administration,” Hunter wrote, “that the leadership of Local 1733 does not support any action that violates city ordinance or Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Memphis and AFSCME Local 1733.”
Hunter went on to write, “AFSCME Local 1733 is committed to our membership who is working to ensure we deliver world class service to the community in which we live, play and work.”
WMC Action News 5 learned some sanitation workers are upset because they think Lamar is pushing for privatization of the city’s trash collection. WMC reached out to the City for comment Wednesday afternoon, but had not heard back late Wednesday night.