When it comes to the contractual rift between Memphis city government and the venerable city sanitation workers union agreeing on important issues is to dream the impossible dream."
If there's a moral to the story, could it be "one man's trash can be another man's ticket to a new 401k." Just as parts of east Shelby County were beginning to resemble the smelly apocalyptic wasteland of the movie "Escape From New York," Republic Services announced a new five-year agreement had been reached with striking employees ending their second walkout in four months.
But, before you stamp happy ending on this two week nightmare for those who saw their trash "grow as high as an elephant's eye," AFSCME Local 1733 Executive Director Chad Johnson, poses an appropriate and haunting set of questions.
"Why isn't the city holding a contractor responsible for not providing the services they're contracted for?" he asked. "Why are they being given a pass?"
But, while one city councilman did express the thought of levying some fine against Republic before the strike ended, the Wharton administration is opting to move ahead with its suggestions to the council for stabilizing the city's solid waste system.
One of three options would be the status quo of mixing city and contract services. Another would call for more outsourcing and privatization as if one debacle wasn't enough. A third, culled from discussions with AFSCME, would function with less contracted work and more by Union 1733.
"What we'd be looking at there is a reduction in cost savings back with the employees," said Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little. "We're still working on the details of how that might be done."
"That huge middle ground here," said Johnson, who notes there's a lot more room for discussion and a lot more issues to be resolved between the city and solid waste employees than to privatize or not to privatize. Just as Little had a three-pronged plan of options, there's a trio of problems the union would like to see addressed.
"Why we haven't expanded to single stream recycling which collects more recyclables, which reduces the amount of dumping fees that we have?," Johnson questioned. "To enforce the ordinance when it comes to bulk items. When it comes to construction waste. When it comes to yard wastes. By ordinance those businesses are suppose to dispose of that waste themselves.
"Finally, also having some retirement security for some of these folks too," he added. "I remind everybody nobody whose in solid waste management is a part of the city pension."
So, is there a moral to this story? Nope, because unfortunately, it still remains to be totally written.