(WMC-TV) - Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and members of the AFSCME union held a historic news conference to announce a new compromise that would set up sanitation worker pensions.
For several years, union workers have complained that their trucks are outdated and that they are working paycheck to paycheck without a pension.
The debate over sanitation worker pensions in Memphis dates back to the days when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched and died for workers to have safer conditions.
The compromise Wharton and AFSCME negotiated would restore a $2.25 cut residents were about to get on their monthly sanitation fees. The money would be used to buy new trucks and establish a new pension account for sanitation workers.
In return, AFSCME workers promise 100 additional stops per day.
Sanitation workers say this compromise makes them feel that Dr. King, Jr.'s fight for sanitation workers' rights was not in vain.
"This is the moment. This is the moment. He's smiling right now," said Elmore Nickleberry, who, after 59 years, may be able to retire with a pension.
"You've put in 59 years, then you leave and you're trying to make it on social security," said Mayor Wharton. "That's unthinkable."
Wharton signed the agreement with the AFSCME union just days before the anniversary of King's march on Washington.
"It's almost prophetic we reached this point," he said. "We didn't design it this way."
The momentous signing, two years in the making, caused AFSCME Executive Director Gail Tyree to get choked up.
"It makes me so proud of the young men and women who have come behind them," said Tyree.
As part of the deal, Memphis residents will not get a planned $2.25 cut to their monthly sanitation fees. the city will buy trucks that automatically recycle. Eighty sanitation vacancies will remain unfilled and a retirement fund will be set up for workers.
"The citizens win, the administration comes out because we have a new relationship with the employees and the employees who wish to retire, they benefit from being able to do so with dignity," said Mayor Wharton.
Nickleberry is awestruck that the change happened during his lifetime.
"Now ... Now, I'm happy," he said.
The Memphis City Council is scheduled to vote on the item Tuesday.
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