In 1968, the Memphis sanitation strike pitted blacks against whites. The city erupted in violent fights and riots in a vicious battle for equality in treatment as a human, man, and pay.
Forty-five years later there are no fights or riots but a vocal protest between sanitation company Republic Service and its workers at Allied Waste.
"They violate work rules, they violate contracts, they don't care out their workers," said Shaka Khalphni.
Joseph Wyatt:"we are not getting paid very well at all."
MORE: 250K Republic Service customers affected by strike
"The insurance has gone sky high and the pay has not moved," added Billy Taylor. "We haven't had a raise in over two years."
One-hundred-eighty workers have been without a contract since last year, they're frustrated over the wages, but even more so their pension which right now falls under a plan that's almost bankrupt.
"We want to make sure the money we contribute for retirement is there for them when they come up for retirement," said Roger Lawrence, Republic services general manager. "I always fight for employees, make sure they get the best benefits, the best wages."
"It is in trouble because the company won't put anything in it," added Edward Gorman. "It's guys that I have talked to and they have retired and they draw $53 a month. You can't even put gas in a car to last a whole month at $53 a month."
Lawrence said in an effort to fix the pension fund there have been at least 20 negotiating sessions. There's still no agreement on a new contract, even though Republic sanitation workers are considered some of the highest paid employees in Shelby County.
"The average starting wage for our guys is about $40,000 a year," Lawrence said. "The average salary of our workers is almost $60,000 a year, plus benefits. Let's say your average for the week is $19.75 and you work 52 hours, you get 40 hours straight time and 12 1/2 overtime at the $19.75."
"As far as residential, none of us have never seen that kind of money," countered Joseph Wyatt.
"The more hours you get the less money you get to do the time," said Gorman. "Have some folks out here be out here 60 hours and they get time and a half at $7."
Lawrence says he has a responsibility to his employees and his customers. Supervisors have already picked up routes as well as out of town Republic Service employees. He's unclear how long this strike will last.
"How long it takes, how long it takes we'll go to the end because one thing I look at it like this here if you down, I'm down with you," Gorman said.
The company and members of the Teamsters are expected to meet for another negotiating session on Thursday to hammer out a deal.
In the meantime, at least a 250,000 customers in Shelby County and parts of north Mississippi are going to have to make do without. For some, this will be nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
For others, just the thought of their trash being left on the curb is more than a little upsetting.
"Well, I'm a little upset why do I have to pay a fee when nothing is being done about it," said a concerned customer. "I've done my part now the city should do their part as well."
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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