(Memphis) On the eve of the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, workers he fought for say there are still challenges ahead.
The national president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Lee Saunders, said that if Dr. King were alive, he would be in Memphis.
Saunders noted the current struggle of city workers to reverse a 4.6 percent pay cut they received two years ago.
AFSCME filed a lawsuit shortly after that pay cut, alleging the city had violated bargaining practices, sparked by the 1968 strike that brought Dr. King to Memphis. The actual ‘impasse ordinance’ in question was established in 1978 for all city workers.
“We have a mayor who is not recognizing and not respecting the collective bargaining process,” Saunders said.
But on Tuesday, Wharton said, “Whether we go through a collective bargaining process or not, this administration will sit and negotiate fairly across the table with the employees.”
Wharton added that the events on the anniversary of Dr. King’s death are “good for the city;” that King deserves that and more.
Still, there were sanitation workers holding signs outside Tuesday’s council meeting, saying they were driving unsafe vehicles.
More than anything, they want their pay restored.
“Yes, things have changed since 1968, but they just came a little way. We're still being mistreated,” said Brendia H. Clark, a sanitation worker.
Saunders said the unions are willing to sacrifice in an era of tightening budgets. But he said if working families are sacrificing, then so should the top earners.
He referred to major tax breaks offered to corporations, while workers have less to take home.
Saunders said Dr. King “understood that the only way we could fight back is through collective action, and collective power.”
Saunders will join others from around the country, including Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III at a panel discussion at 7pm on Tuesday, at the Mason Temple, where Dr. King gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech.