The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 3, 2013

Decades after King's death, Memphis jobs at risk


COXEY, Ala. —

"Unfortunately, 45 years later, I have to say, we haven't made as much progress," said Johnson. "We're still talking about sanitation employees being seen as 'less than,' being treated poorly by management, being treated poorly by the citizenry, being treated poorly by the city council, being treated poorly by the administration."

Conrad counters that the biggest impediment to the process is the union, which he called self-serving.

"They don't have much clout, but because many of our elected officials have a desire to make everybody happy and to please everybody, this continues to stall out," Conrad said.

Wharton says he will not be personally involved in the negotiations but could step in if needed. He stresses that he is not advocating privatization but has mentioned managed competition as a "feasible" option.

"I am open to whatever," Wharton said, adding that he'd like to avoid a "winner-take-all, zero-sum game."

George Little, Memphis' chief administrative officer, plans to update the council in early May, after a meeting with Johnson on April 11.

For now, the future of the city's sanitation workers is in limbo. Such uncertainty concerns Nickleberry.

"They're trying to take everything (King) did for us, they're trying to take it all back," Moore said. "I don't think it's right."

For 79-year-old retired sanitation worker Alvin Turner, it seems history is being repeated.

"This is a fight that we fought in 1968, and we may as well get prepared to fight it again."

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