Sanitation workers fighting suspension for not crossing picket line

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(Memphis) William Blevins is back at work now but fighting to get back a week’s pay he lost when the City of Memphis suspended him last spring.

“Without pay, when you got a family to take care of, what do you do?” says Blevins.

It happened during the heat of the strike by Republic, the company the city has contracted with to help with garbage pick up.

While city workers are not allowed to strike, Republic workers can and they did April 16th.

City workers say they were threatened by the strikers to not cross the picket line.

They took their fears to city hall.

“They explained to them, look I was afraid they were going to do something to me. I was truly afraid. They got letters sent to the union hall saying hey we know who you are,” says Keith Johnson who is a sanitation worker and union representative.

The Public Works Division made provisions sending an email saying managers would be at landfills to drive trucks across the picket line and dump whenever an employee refused, but there was no guarantee how long it would continue.

Then on  April 25th, the day before the strike ended, Blevins and three other workers were suspended when they didn’t follow a new directive to return to their full duties, crossing the picket line.

“You have to follow a directive, even if the work you feel they are asking you to do is unsafe?” says Gail Tyree, Assistant Director of the AFSCME Union.

The AFSCME Union representing the workers says the city overlooked their safety.

“Who gave the directive. No one is yet to answer that question,” says Tyree.

Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little says Solid Waste staff made the decision and the city stands by it.

“The oral instructions were given to follow-up with regular practice and when that wasn’t done it was followed with discipline,” says Little

We asked him about the threats workers faced.

“It was unfounded based on the observations at the time,” says Little

Months earlier gun shots had been fired during another Republic strike near Millington.

“We try to give them a respectful work place and we get disrespected,” says Blevins.

Right now it looks as though the dispute will be going to arbitration.

Memphis CAO George Little says he stands by the city’s decision.

The union is standing by the workers and getting their pay back.


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