With the City of Memphis facing a large budget deficit, City Council members are considering all kinds of proposals to generate more revenue or cut expenses.
One proposal that is sending chills down the backs of worker rights and civil rights activists comes from Councilman Kemp Conrad. In recent budget hearings, he has repeatedly brought up the idea of privatizing the City's entire sanitation department. These are the same workers who spent three months on strike in 1968 to win the right to a union in the first place - the workers who Dr. King died supporting.
It isn't even clear if privatization would save the City money, since contractors would need to make a profit. What is clear is that long-time sanitation workers would be jobless. The companies that replace them will likely pay low wages and offer workers few benefits, and would likely oppose workers trying to unionize.
On June 7th, the City Council failed to come to an agreement on a budget, including whether sanitation workers' jobs will be eliminated. Council members will vote again on the budget on June 21st, so please take action today!
It's easy to claim that privatization will save the City money, but it's not clear that it will. Comparing the efficiency of current private companies serving parts of the City with public workers is like comparing apples and oranges. Private workers are only picking up carts using motorized vehicles, while City sanitation workers have to come behind them to do labor intensive work like clearing yard debris. It's not surpising that private workers can do their routes faster, because City workers are doing the hardest parts of their routes for them.
While it's not clear if privatization would save money, it is clear that private companies would pay workers less and provide few benefits to workers. Likely, they would oppose any attempt by their wrokers to form a union as the Memphis sanitation workers did in 1968.
There are many different ways that the City could close the current budget gap. Throwing away the jobs of hard-working people who deserve a living wage, fair benefits, and the protection of a union should not be one of them. I urge you to reject any attempt to privatize the sanitation workers' jobs.