1,300 Members Participate in Memphis Garbage Strike (February, 1968)

Wurf Heads Union Negotiating Team Seeking Pay Hike

Public Employee, February 1968


As The Public Employee went to press, negotiations between Local 1733 and the City of Memphis were locked in virtual round the clock sessions as a strike of 1,300 sanitary public works employees here entered its second week.

Headed by International President Wurf and SCME International Field Director P.J.Ciampa, negotiators demanded a wage increase averaging 40 cents an hour. SCME negotiators forced a showdown with Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb who had insisted that he would not meet as long as the employees were out on strike.

The strike began Feb. 12 after the sanitary workers were shortchanged in pay following an agreement that they would be paid when sent home because of inclement weather. The walkout climaxed a long history of unfair treatment of the workers.

Garbage collection, sewer, water and street maintenance work was also shut down by the strike.

Memphis sanitation workers march

 Photo Caption: AFSCME Local 1733 striking sanitation workers march in Memphis

A highlight of the walkout was a march of the 1,300 employees from their meeting hall to City Hall. The marchers stretched a mile and a half long on the 5 mile trek to City Hall.

At City Hall the employees jammed the Council chambers and the lobby until Mayor Loeb opened the civic auditorium next door for a meeting.

From the stage Ciampa, William Lucy, associate director of the Legislative and Community Affairs Department and the Mayor addressed the strikers. The Mayor's claim that the workers have received fair treatment brought jeers from the workers. Finally the Mayor fled from the stage as the workers hooted down his claims.

Wurf arrived on February 18, from Washington in an attempt to resolve the differences. He appeared at a special meeting called by the Memphis Ministerial Association, arriving after midnight for a session that lasted until 5:30 a.m. After presenting the union's case the meeting recessed until the next afternoon. The strikers offered to provide emergency pickups at hospitals and schools without charge if the city would agree to pull the scabs off the streets. Efforts by the city to recruit scabs brought only a few job thieves to city hall.

The strike drew national attention and daily television coverage.

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