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