MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Memphis sanitation workers are the most famous city employees we have. It goes back to the days when they wore the signs that read, 'I AM A MAN.' Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave up his life while in Memphis fighting for their rights. Now comes the possibility of the biggest change they've seen since the civil rights days.
Sanitation workers provide a simple, yet critical service of picking up our trash. It has to be done, and these guys, some of them in their sixties and seventies, are the ones that do it.
They work for the city, for now, but talks will soon begin about letting a private company run everything.
According to the city's Chief Administrative Officer, George Little, "We're exploring it."
Those three words from George Little will shake the foundation at city hall. The sanitation workers are represented by the American Federation of State City and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, and they carry a lot of clout at city hall.
Just earlier this week, City Council member Janis Fullilove said to the head of public works, "I know in my heart of hearts that you are not going to privatize the sanitation department. Thank you so much."
Now you see why George Little realizes he's parked his pants on a seat that might turn out to be just a bit less comfortable than an electric chair.
"Clearly there's disagreement over privatization. We're going to see if we can work through that," Little said. "At the end of the day we want to take care of our employees, but we most of all want to take care of our citizens with good, efficient trash collection services."
Little will look at possibly offering some of the older employees early retirement or a buyout plan. Sanitation workers don't receive pensions.
Little stated, "We are going to be meeting with, in the next couple of weeks, and begin to work with the local AFSCME. What we've said to them is that if they have a better idea on how to deliver service and savings goals, we'd like to hear from them."
The city council will be kept up to speed on this, and as you've seen, it's going to be an awfully tough sell. Little said the goal is to provide good service, and do it for less money.