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Trash Talk In Memphis

Trash workers for the city of Memphis plan to turn out Tuesday to protest a city proposal to privatize garbage collection.

Invoking the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, workers protesting earlier this month carried signs saying, “I am a man,” the same slogan their predecessors used to demand safe working conditions and an end to preferential treatment for white workers. Martin Luther King, Jr., was in Memphis to support the garbage workers when he was assassinated.

That’s the history that one worker interviewed by WMC TV Channel 5 argues would be lost. He says privatization would strip the city of local control and result in poorer service quality, but would also allow history to “fall by the wayside.”

“A lot of these guys did work during the ’68 period. A lot of them worked immediately after the ’68 period, so you have a lot of history associated with what we do,” worker Rod Lobbins tells the station.

But it’s hard to see how a cost-cutting measure would erase or undermine the important legacy Lobbins is talking about. It’s more likely simply to send workers, who reportedly earn as much as $27 an hour or the equivalent of a $56,000 annual salary, to the want ads.

And closing a $60 million budget gap shouldn’t be confused with racism, nor should backroom deals that stick it to city taxpayers, black and white alike.

Lately, the only person whose safety has been in question is Kemp Conrad, the city councilman who proposed privatizing trash service and said it would save $20 million a year. Conrad filed a police report after someone posted on Twitter an angry message referencing a convicted murderer: “let me get very low I wish James Hawkins get out of jail a pay (Conrad’s) kids a visit since Kemp don’t like black people!!”

Look for the rhetoric to stay at its fever pitch until the budget gets passed.

Fox13 News is teasing a story to air tonight about how the city sanitation department “is poorly managed, inefficiently run, and a waste of taxpayer dollars,” featuring a video of a citizen throwing trash into a city truck while a paid worker looks on.