County mayor axes money for University of Memphis over employee pay

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris has vetoed a $1 million grant to The University of Memphis. Now the university’s president and county commissioners are firing back.

Harris vetoed a grant to the University of Memphis to renovate its swim facilities.

“This is not about Rudd. This is not about yours truly. I’m sure he makes a decent salary where he is, and I make a decent salary where I am. I am able to take care of my family, and he’s able to take care of his family. This is about 330 workers who are not able to take care of their family, even though they work every single day for The University of Memphis,” Harris said.

He says he wants to see a plan to get those workers to a living wage where they can support their families.

Van Turner, chairman of the Shelby County Commission, says Rudd has told them there is a plan, but a change of this magnitude doesn’t happen overnight.

“This is not really anything that the university can do right now, but he has suggested and indicated that there is a plan to get the worker up to $15 over time,” Turner said.

Rudd said earlier this year that he fully supports raising the minimum wage on campus to $15 hour. Last year, the Faculty Senate and Staff Senate at U of M passed resolutions in support of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Monday, he sent a letter to Harris saying the university has increased its minimum wage to $11.11 in recent years, while closing a budget gap and keeping tuition increases low, and are working toward a $15 minimum wage on campus. Rudd also said Harris’ request could represent an ethical breach for the university if it were to acept money in exchange for a change in pay policy.

While this process plays out, there’s now a question of if the mayor will use the same standard when allocating money to other agencies.

“Look, I’m trying to do justice in this moment with this issue right in front of me,” Harris said.

It’s an issue that will likely continue as the board pursues plans to override the veto.

It takes eight votes to override the mayor’s veto. The board plans to have a meeting before the end of the month. If there aren’t enough votes to override the veto, they can bring the grant back up in another resolution.

Monday evening, Harris released a statement saying, “Less than 24 hours later, but really after seven years of efforts by CWA, the faculty senate, MICAH, Mid-South Peace and Justice and too many stakeholders to name, we have a plan for living wage at The U of M.”

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