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Broken Promise?

Former city wrecker service employees file EEOC complaint over lost jobs.

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Four months after the elimination of the city's wrecker service, some former employees are claiming the budget-cutting decision wrecked their finances.

In addition to approving other cost-saving measures in various city divisions, the Memphis City Council voted in July to abolish the General Services division's wrecker operation in an attempt to trim the budget. It was a move that left some employees with a large pay cut and others unemployed.

In late October, a few of those employees filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against the city.

During the presentation of the fiscal budget for 2011, the director of General Services, Martha Lott, suggested abolishing the service in favor of outsourcing to save money. Workers said Lott promised they would be placed in other divisions of city government, but she told the Flyer that some employees must reapply for city jobs with no guarantee they'll be hired.

"Due to the restructure, seven wrecker operators were affected. Two have moved to fuel trucks. Two got temporary positions. At this point, there are four people who have not been placed," Lott said. "The four who don't have jobs are eligible to apply and compete through the civil service process just like any other applicant."

Roy Cassey, a shift supervisor for four years and a wrecker driver for 32 years, is now jobless. He used to make $21 an hour, but now he draws unemployment.

"I feel like they abandoned me," Cassey said. "After 36 years, they just threw me out the door. I've been scraping, trying to get my bills paid. They should go ahead and put us somewhere in the city, because I need a job."

Steven Simmons, who also worked as a wrecker operator, was moved into another city job, but he's taken a dramatic pay cut. After nearly four years with the wrecker service making $20 an hour, Simmons was placed into a part-time job making $12 an hour at the city's police impound lot.

"I feel like a fool, because I'm punching a clock every day, going to work, doing all of these different positions. And I'm not making any more money than the guys sitting at home drawing unemployment," Simmons said.

Of the roughly 600 tows of inoperable city vehicles done in 2010, Lott said the city's wrecker service only performed 255 tows and the rest went to private companies.

For fiscal year 2011, Lott said the estimated budget for the business was $768,000. That budget didn't include insurance or maintenance repairs for the trucks. By outsourcing, she said she would save over a half-million dollars.

Memphis city councilman Joe Brown originally voted for the elimination but has since changed his mind. He said when the council voted to outsource the wrecker service, Lott informed the council that wrecker drivers would be provided other city jobs.

"I'm supporting the workers, because the fact is, we're talking about people's livelihood," Brown said. "We're talking about putting food on the table for children, for families."

Lott was expected to explain why certain wrecker drivers were not given jobs in other divisions in a council committee meeting last week. But the meeting was postponed due to the EEOC complaint filed against the city. Lott was unavailable for follow-up interviews with the Flyer after the complaint was filed.

Councilman Harold Collins was scheduled to lead the postponed meeting. He said during the presentation of the 2011 budget that he heard Lott assure wrecker service employees would have first dibs on jobs that became available.

"I hope those workers get an opportunity to get rehired by the city," Collins said. "At some point, we have to understand that when the city makes these commitments to employees, they have to hold themselves up to maintaining the commitment."

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