It is no secret that long-standing relationships between public employees’ unions and governmental units are in jeopardy.
For much of the spring, national attention was fixated on efforts by Wisconsin state government to disenfranchise teachers’ unions, and the abolition of bargaining rights for the Tennessee Education Association and its affiliates was arguably the most dramatic single event to emerge from the 2011 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Now the battle is being joined between the City of Memphis and 13 local unions. At a press conference held by union representatives on Government Plaza Monday morning, Mike Williams, vice president of the Memphis Police Association, charged that union-busting and not money was the key issue in the unions’ dispute with the City, one which was now been formalized in a class action suit against the City Council and the administration of Mayor A C Wharton.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Williams answered when asked by a reporter if anti-union sentiment was involved when cuts in pay and benefits were included in the final city budget approved by the Council on June 21.
“This is not about money,” he said. “It’s about trying to do away with the viability of union contracts. If they’re able to take away money this time, they’re going to come back next time and do something else.”
The suit filed in Federal court seeks to invalidate the City’s action in imposing on city employees a 4.5 percent pay cut which, Essica Little Littlejohn of the Police Association said in an opening statement, is at variance with agreements reached earlier in formal impasse talks between the unions and city government.
“A deal is a deal,” Littlejohn said. “Once you’ve signed a contract you have to stick to the terms.”
The suit seeks a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction later against both the pay cuts and execution of a planned buyout procedure for city sanitation workers.
Williams said that the setting aside of $13 million from the City’s reserves as a buyout fund for sanitation workers, “which they didn’t even ask for,” was a preliminary move toward privatization. “They want to draw down sanitation workers, and then they will say, ‘We don’t have enough sanitation workers.’” Then would come an overt move to privatize, Williams said.
Meanwhile, rumors abound that there will be efforts at the next Council meeting of July 29 to alter last month’s budget agreement and to rescind the cuts in pay and benefits for city employees. But various council members privately express skepticism that seven votes can be found to support such a move, which would cost a total of $17 million, money that presumably would have to come from the $76 million reserve fund.