Mem­phis may raise full-time base pay for all city em­ploy­ees

The Commercial Appeal - - Mlife - Ryan Poe Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE AP­PEAL

The Mem­phis City Coun­cil could this year raise hourly wages for full-time city em­ploy­ees to $15.50, just sur­pass­ing the goal set by the Fight for $15 cam­paign.

Rais­ing the pay of the 420 city em­ploy­ees mak­ing less than $15.50 an hour would cost the city $1.45 mil­lion for the full fis­cal year or about $700,000 if their pay is raised in Jan­uary, Bud­get Com­mit­tee chair­man Ed­mund Ford Jr. said last week.

"I'm not ask­ing be­cause this is some­thing you see on TV," said Ford, who pre­sented the pro­posal, ref­er­enc­ing re­cent Fight for $15 marches and ral­lies in Mem­phis. "I'm ask­ing be­cause this is the right thing to do."

As Fight for $15 ramped up calls for a min­i­mum wage dur­ing MLK50, the 50th an­niver­sary of Mar­tin Luther King Jr.'s mur­der and of the 1968 Mem­phis san­i­ta­tion strike, Mayor Jim Strickland re­leased a state­ment say­ing the city pays 95 per­cent of its 6,659 full-time em­ploy­ees more than $15. Ford said this will take care of the rest.

The com­mit­tee voted 2-0, with sup­port from Ford and coun­cil mem­ber Mar­tavius Jones, to en­dorse Ford's res­o­lu­tion. Coun­cil mem­ber Worth Mor­gan ab­stained.

The coun­cil could vote on the res­o­lu­tion April 24, the same day as Jim Strickland presents his pro­posed bud­get for the fis­cal year be­gin­ning July 1.

Al­though non-bind­ing, Ford said the res­o­lu­tion, if ap­proved, would sig­nal to the ad­min­is­tra­tion that the coun­cil will set the min­i­mum full-time wage dur­ing this year's bud­get cy­cle.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion was al­ready con­sid­er­ing raises for "hun­dreds" of em­ploy­ees mak­ing 5 per­cent less than the mar­ket av­er­age, Chief Op­er­a­tions Of­fi­cer Doug McGowen said.

Those pay raises would cost about the same as Ford's pro­posal, he added.

But McGowen cau­tioned that sim­ply rais­ing pay to $15.50 also car­ries a hid­den cost: Rais­ing em­ploy­ees' salary could mean su­per­vi­sors' salary would also need to in­crease.

Still, McGowen said he ex­pects to see the ad­min­is­tra­tion and coun­cil con­tinue to co­op­er­ate to give em­ploy­ees pay raises like they've done in the past two bud­gets.

"I'm en­cour­aged that we're go­ing to find com­mon ground on this," McGowen said.

Nei­ther Ford nor the ad­min­is­tra­tion is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing giv­ing part­time em­ploy­ees a $15.50 min­i­mum wage, al­though Ford said he's open to that dis­cus­sion in the fu­ture. Set­ting an across-the-board $15.50 hourly min­i­mum wage would cost $8 mil­lion a year, Ford said, not count­ing the cost to raise su­per­vi­sors' wages.

More than 100 of the full-time em­ploy­ees mak­ing less than $15.50 an hour have worked more than 10 years for the city, Ford said.

"When you go back and look at their salaries, they're here be­cause they want to be here," Ford said. "Let's com­pen­sate them for what they do."

McGowen, echo­ing Ford, said un­der­paid em­ploy­ees can be found through­out the city's ranks, from li­braries to main­te­nance staff.

"It re­ally does touch each and ev­ery divi­sion," McGowen said of the pro­pos­als.

Reach Ryan Poe at poe@com­mer­cialap­ or on Twit­ter at @ryan­poe.

Doneshia Bab­bitt holds her 6-year-old cousin, Tielynn John­son, both of St. Louis, Mo., as they join pro­test­ers out­side McDon­ald's, lo­cated at 2073 Union, de­mand­ing a $15 min­i­mum wage. YALONDA M. JAMES/THE COM­MER­CIAL

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