The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 3, 2013

Decades after King's death, Memphis jobs at risk

(Continued)

COXEY, Ala. —

Officials have been slashing costs in the sanitation department. It currently has 124 unfilled positions out of about 619 total, resulting in $5 million in savings.

Conrad contends that Memphis and its residents could save millions more by privatizing the city's sanitation work because a company will be more efficient. A private company likely will introduce more technically advanced trucks into the mix. The automated trucks require fewer workers and can make almost double the number of stops in one day.

Conrad supported a $13 million voluntary buyout plan and blames inaction from the administration for allowing about 35 eligible workers to retire without a buyout option. Some 45 of the department's employees are above age 63. After buyouts are taken, Conrad says, the city could outsource the remaining jobs and the corresponding garbage collection routes.

"It's just another example of not focusing on the basics of city government, the nuts-and-bolts core services, and our employees lose and the taxpayers lose," Conrad said.

Municipalities such as San Francisco and Toledo, Ohio, have privatized sanitation services. Others have fluctuated between private and public garbage collection. One option that has been used in Phoenix and Indianapolis and may be considered in Memphis is managed competition, which allows a city or a public agency to make its own bid to compete with offers from private companies.

Chad Johnson is the local point man for AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He said the city has no clear plan for its sanitation services and has not done enough research to determine if privatization is the right course.

Johnson's goal is to preserve the jobs of the current sanitation employees, while also shedding light on some current problems within the department: an aging truck fleet, subpar training, insufficient retirement benefits and, once again, problems with worker safety.

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