MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris offered his support to the Shelby County School system to increase pay to part-time cafeteria workers and allow those workers to make $15 per hour.
In a press conference Wednesday, Harris and the Shelby County Commission presented their joint resolution in support of all SCS part-time cafeteria employees making a living wage, which would include 681 employees.
Last year, the school system committed to paying all full-time employees a $15 per hour living wage.
Harris said 200,000 people in the county live in poverty and do not know where their next nutritious meal will come from. He said the people who feed Shelby County children meals at school should not have to worry about feeding their own children at home.
“The solution to poverty in our area is to pay people a living wage,” Harris said. “We’re here today because we can’t wait to talk about this much longer.”
All employees of the City of Memphis and Shelby County make the $15 per hour living wage, or more. Harris said it’s time for the next biggest public entity in the county to join them.
Harris said the 681 part-time SCS cafeteria workers now make between $11.57 and $14.17 per hour.
“I was raised here, and I went to the public schools here, and I can tell you that the work of the cafeteria workers is worthy and is important,” Harris said. “The work of our cafeteria workers is as worthy and as important as any other employee in the school building, including the principal.”
Harris is set to present his budget for the next fiscal year on June 30 to the County Commission, and he wants to have these discussions now so they can be accounted for in the new budget. He said all three entities — SCS, the County Commission and the Mayor’s Office — must collaborate together to make this decision.
Harris said this could cost the county anywhere from $1.8 million to $5.6 million, but he thinks it can be done on the lower end of that scale. He said not much progress has been made on this issue so far, so he wanted to show his support now and allow budget discussions to commence.
Phillip Foreman, a part-time cafeteria worker at Ridgeway High School, was in attendance at the press conference to voice his thankfulness to the county for supporting him making a living wage.
“I do the same work that full-time workers do, no less, sometimes more,” Foreman said. “Give us the same wages that all the rest of the employees have gotten in Memphis. I walk home in the evening trying to make sure my family gets what they need.”
Harris hopes to have the extra funds for SCS approved in the next budget.