MEMPHIS (CN) – Memphis changed the terms of a labor agreement with unions that represent 6,000 city employees days before the agreement was to go into effect, the unions say. The federal class action claims the unions were not given time to address the changes and asks for an injunction to force Memphis to play fair.
The AFSCME Local 1733 leads the list of 13 unions that represent Memphis employees, including firefighters, parks and police, public works and other divisions. The unions claim the city’s abrupt right turn violated the First and 14th Amendments and the City Charter.
Memphis enacted an impasse ordinance in 1978, which dictates how to negotiate and resolve economic issues between the city and its employees.
“Since its enactment, the Unions and the City have followed the procedures established by the impasse ordinance to negotiate the Memoranda of Understanding that control the terms and conditions of the employees represented by the Unions,” according to the complaint.
The unions say that in March this year they and the city had agreed on terms to new “Memoranda of Understanding.”
“The above terms, mutually agreed by the Unions and the City, provide the benefits, salaries, wages, and other forms of compensation included in the Memoranda of Understanding will remain unchanged during their effective period; and that either party may reopen negotiations after one year for purposes of negotiating wages only,” the complaint states.
The Memoranda covered the period of July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013 and was completed on April 1 this year.
The unions add: “The City agreed with the Unions on the economic terms of the Memoranda of Understanding without invoking the impasse procedure. The Unions reasonably relied on the City’s execution of the Memoranda, as well as the provisions of the impasse ordinance, to accept the negotiations as successfully concluded.”
But on June 24, six days before the new deal was to take effect, the city told union leaders that “it would implement a ‘wage reduction in the amount of 4.6%,’ and eliminate death benefits paid to the family of active and retired employees.”
“In addition, the City indicated that it would ‘buy out’ certain employees of the Solid Waste Division,” the complaint states.
The unions say the last-minute changes violate the City Charter and its impasse ordinance: The city did not present the new terms in negotiations and did not give the unions time to petition the City Council for redress.
“City employees have a legitimate claim of entitlement to the economic terms determined pursuant to the impasse ordinance and documented in the Memoranda of Understanding,” the complaint states.
“By unilaterally reducing the compensation and benefits of its employees, in violation of the economic terms mutually accepted and established pursuant to the impasse ordinance, the City deprived its employees of a property interest without due process.”
The unions seek an injunction ordering the city to comply with the terms it agreed upon in March.
They are represented by Deborah Godwin and Timothy Taylor with Godwin, Morris, Laurenzi & Bloomfield.