MEMPHIS, TN - As the sanitation buyout talks slow to a trickle, City of Memphis sanitation workers are burning their sick days in record numbers.
City leaders say on Tuesday, August 23, 2011, 51 out of the nearly 400 workers in the department called in sick. Compared to other days, that's a relatively healthy day. Some days, more than 100 sanitation employees, or 25 percent of the workforce, has called in sick.
"We've had a few days this summer where we've had large number of employees who were absent," says Andy Ashford, Deputy Director of the city's Public Works Department. "Of course, it will bounce back the next day and we'll wonder, what happened?"
The sick-outs come more than two months after the city council approved a $13 million retirement plan for sanitation workers. Early details released about the plan indicate each worker is entitled to a one-time buyout between $40,000 and $60,000, plus financial counseling.
"My advice to all the sanitation workers holding on for a buyout is, don't hold your breath," Chad Johnson, international organizer for AFSCME Local 1733 tells abc24.com.
"If you are ready, if your body is tired, don't put yourself in physical risk staying on the job, because there is no timeline for a buyout," he adds.
Johnson says morale among workers is low, but it's not directly responsible for the sick days, saying this summer's high heat and broken trucks may also be factors.
"Absenteeism kind of comes and goes, whether it is related to any and all of this, who knows," says Deputy Director Ashford.
The retirement program was slated to begin July 1, 2011. City leaders say part of the delay is due to the overwhelming number of sanitation workers who signed up to take part in the buyout. The Public Works Division must now figure out how to make sure they have enough employees left to collect the city's trash.