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Union leaders protest proposed Impasse Ordinance changes

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Dozens of union leaders lined city streets Saturday, fighting back against proposed changes to the nearly 40-year-old Impasse Ordinance.

Memphis City Council is set to vote on the modifications next week, which would do away with individual impasse committee and create one single committee to deal with disputes – a move union leaders call unfair.

"It will take away any voice that any one of these 13 unions has, as far as contract negotiations with the city," said Memphis Police Association lead negotiator Matt Cunningham.

The ordinance was passed in response to the 1978 police and fire strikes, and protesters say the proposed changes mean they will lose their leverage when it comes to contract disputes.

"It’s very disappointing because these people work very hard at what they do – they keep this city running," said Melone Irvin with the machinists union. "It’s worked for 40 years. Our people deserve the right to be represented."

Eight unions representing city employees put up billboards across the city denouncing what they're referring to as a proposed "repeal."

"It would basically eliminate the contracts between police, fire, the machinists, the electricians," Cunningham said. "All of the city employees that are represented by labor organizations, their contracts would basically go away."

He says union workers want to work with the city to reach a compromise.

City Councilman Kemp Conrad proposed the modifications to the ordinance, but says calling it a repeal is inaccurate.

In an email last week in response to those MPA billboards, Conrad defended changing the ordinance, calling it "purely procedural in nature and not an attack on anyone."

State Representative Dwayne Thompson of District 96 showed up at Saturday's rally in support of union workers.

"I believe that we should treat our city employees fairly," he said. "I believe that if it [the ordinance] needs updating, then they should work with the city employees and city employee groups to develop a good compromise that works for all concerned."

The ordinance has already passed two City Council votes.

The final vote is set for Tuesday.