Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris makes no apologies about fighting for $15/hour for U of M custodial employees

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says he is not upset or concerned about the backlash he’s received. The issue, he says, is paying people a decent living wage at the University of Memphis.

Mayor Harris says employees have been fighting for more money for several years.

Doris Conley is one of them. She has been a custodian at the University of Memphis for 18-and-a-half years and makes $12.24 an hour.

Doris worked three jobs to make ends meet, until recently when she suffered a stroke. She now works one job, while trying to pay a $3,000 medical bill.

Doris works at a University of Memphis school for children and takes offense to people saying she is unskilled.

“What do you mean unskilled?” she asked. “Unskilled what? Cleaning up every day, it’s a skill. You’ve got to clean up after 85 little ones. It’s a skill. I mean there is no such thing as an unskilled job.”

There are more than 340 people at the U of M who make less than $15 an hour.

“They have reached out to me and asked for my help,” Mayor Harris says, “… and at that point, I can do one of two things. I can help those in need, who have asked me for my help, or I can not help those in need.”

Mayor Harris says this is all about trying to raise the quality of living for people in Memphis and Shelby County. To put a dent in the poverty problem.

It is why he continues to focus on getting people to at least talk about paying $15 an hour.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to work every single day and still be struggling and still be living in poverty,” he says. “There is dignity to work, and these folks are human beings. Their humanity is of value and they have to be respected.”

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