MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The fight for better wages and safer work conditions continues as dozens of sanitation workers strike. Now, the city of Memphis’ elected officials are getting involved.

It’s been a week since Republic Services employees walked off the job in protest of what they call unsafe work conditions and low pay.

Teamsters Local 667 presidents James E. Jones says the average pay in the Memphis area is roughly $25 an hour, while the pay in other cities is much higher. “Why? What’s the difference? Are they picking up a different type of trash than we are? No,” said Jones.

The protest comes after a manager was hit and killed last month by what the company says was a third-party truck at the South Shelby Landfill.

Tuesday morning, employees and supporters rallied outside the landfill. 

Among those showing support was Memphis City Councilman vice chair J.B. Smiley. He was among several council members who sent a letter to Republic Services advocating for safer conditions and higher wages.

“I think the letter sends a very strong message to them that the Memphis City Council will put whatever laws or policy in place to kind of direct that action to a more just action,” said Smiley.

Union representatives say during negotiations, Republic Services told employees they would have to surrender their safety bonus if they wanted higher wages. WREG reached out to Republic Services, and they disputed those claims. 

In an email sent to WREG, a representative said, “this simply is not true.” They went on to say safety is their number one priority, and their safety record exceeds the industry average. In a statement Tuesday, Republic Services also said that claims that they want to the safety bonus are “simply not true.”

“They’re here for profits,” said Smiley. “They’re not going to admit that they don’t focus on safety like we’re asking.”

Republic says they have implemented contingency plans to continue operations as the strike continues. Jones says the company brought in workers from other cities.

“Every time you see a truck rolling, it’s a slap in the face to these drivers that are standing here. There’s no truer statement than that, and that’s what keeps these guys fired up. It’s what lets them know that the company’s really not thinking about them. If they were, they would come out and talk to them,” Jones said.

Jones says they expect to return to the negotiation table later this week. Republic Services confirmed to WREG that negotiations are scheduled to continue on Thursday and Friday.