University of Memphis minimum wage increase

Although time has past since the last time I wrote on the Red Record, the organizations covered and their work have not slowed. The Living Wage campaign at the University of Memphis received some headway as the administrations upped the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. While less than ideal, this step certainly increases the living conditions for lowest paid employees at the University and comes after years of campaigning on the part of the UCW-CWA members and activists. Jeffrey Lichtenstein wrote a critical viewpoint for the Memphis Flyer that can be read here.

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Living Wage gets louder at the University of Memphis

Voices rose from the grassy knoll in front of the University Center Wednesday morning as more than 100 students, employees and community members united to shed light on low-wage working conditions at the University of Memphis.

More than 200 full-time, year-round campus employees, mostly custodial and secretarial workers, receive less than $11 per hour. Many have worked for the University for more than 20 years and still make less than $9 per hour, or approximately $1,350 per month. After rent, utilities, insurance premiums, food, basic household goods and clothing, and transportation expenses, little if anything is leftover for pleasure.

A new campus coalition for the living wage began its formation two months ago and the faculty senate has formed a committee to research what steps the University will need to take in order to ensure a livable wage for all campus employees.

The below quotes represent those engaged in the struggle to enact a living wage.

 Jean Rimmer University of Memphis employee, UCW member

“Some of you all say, ‘Oh, $8 is okay for me,’ but $8 is not gonna be okay for you once you graduate and get a family and start paying utility bills and insurance and everything. It’s a shame the way the little man is being treated. We here at 3 o’clock in the morning. We can’t be with our babies to see that they get to school on time.We have to rely on the older child or a neighbor to make sure that our kids get on the bus to school. All we’re asking is for a decent raise — just a decent raise, a decent salary — so that we can be able to go to one job and take care of our family on one pay check. It’s a lot of us out here are single parents. Some of us have five or six children and $8 just can’t make it. And then my child asks me, ‘Momma, why can’t I go to the movie with Sally, or Sue, or Tom?’ Momma don’t have it! so we have to sacrifice Maybe try to get the $5 movies, or something you ain’t supposed to be getting no ways. We need something we need more than 1.5 percent [raise]. It’s not going to do it. How can you take somebody give them $50,000 and give us 30 cents, 20 cents? Let’s come together and be as one and ask for more than 1.5 percent. At least a dollar, give us at least a dollar or something, we could take $2.”

Jessica Buttermore employee University of Memphis, UCW member

“Our university is located in one of the poorest cities in the country. Our university also has designation as an engaged scholarship university, and part of that designation is that we’ve made a commitment to work with communities in our city to improve the quality of life. But I think as an engaged scholarship university, we need to make a commitment to our own university community to help get our city out of poverty. And that starts by getting our workers out of poverty.”

Tom Smith United Campus Workers organizer

“We see students on this campus that know the state has abandoned its responsibility for this to be a public school. The state used to spend 80 percent of the cost of education for a student. That’s down to 45 percent and students are paying the bulk in tuition. So we see students on this campus that know that this institution belongs to you and that you’re not going to stand for this institution using your dollars to keep workers in institutional poverty.”

Brenna Owen Progressive Student Alliance

“I think we all know that life is pretty crazy, right? We have exams coming up. We have finals. But if we could put exams and finals, our kids and jobs aside just for a minute and think about our lunch that’s coming up in an hour. Imagine putting in long hours researching and editing a paper only to get a flat F You think you deserve that F after all that hard work? That’s what it feels like to dedicate energy and time to a career and having to decide between your lunch and your light bill that month because of poverty wages. Despite what we think a minimum wage is supposed to be, people who run our university have to deal with those decisions month after month.”

Johnathan Moffett President of Empowered Men of Color

“I work in the University Center as building manager and as building manager we work alongside the janitorial service that works in there. The janitors are there cleaning the bathroom. They have to clean the floors. They have to clean all the mess that all the students leave. And in the alumni lounge, there is mess everywhere. They have to clean stuff off the walls and everywhere. The pay that they receive right now does not correspond to the work that they do. I’ve seen them clean first hand and I’m not speaking from the outside. I’m speaking from the inside looking out. I grew up with a single mother. She had three kids she raised on her own. She also did not receive the wage that she should have received. I’ve seen her sacrifice for us. I’ve seen her go without eating until me and my brother and my sister eat, so I know what the struggle is and I believe the wages should be raised for the workers.”

Charles Uffelman Vice President of College Democrats

“Growing up my mother was a secretary at the University of Tennessee, and it’s only by the grace of God that I was able to make it here and make it into school because she received poverty wages all my life and I know what its like to want to go to school in the morning and pay for that field trip but you can’t. That’s a problem in this state. I’m a democrat, and I’m with the college democrats, but this issue is bigger than party. It’s bigger than party and partisanship and it’s one that we should all rally around. I’m glad to see officials from our city government, but our state government is the one that needs to be listening. We founded this country to make it a more perfect union but it isn’t a more perfect union until everyone has equality and everyone can pay for their food and everyone can go to the doctor and not have to worry about their rent.”

Brandon Shaw VP of Subliminal Thought and PSA member

“It’s important students join this alliance with the workers at the university because we have to build community. The workers clean up after us. They feed us. They take care of the buildings we live in everyday. Without the workers, this school would basically fall down to the ground.”

Sam Noel  Progressive Student Alliance

“We have the power to change these things. We have the power to change the system and I just wanted to remind everyone of that. It’s easy to think that you can’t change things, that they’ll always remain this way. That’s what the system wants you to think but we can do this. We can change the way things are if we stick together and we can work on this as a group, as people together.”

Benita Ramirez President of Hispanic Student Association

“A lot of us, more than 60 percent of the Hispanic Student Association are first generation Americans and all of our parents work day and night to be able to provide for us and we couldn’t help them. Who can we help? We can help the campus workers here at the U of M.”

Lee Harris law professor, UCW member, Memphis City Councilman

“I appreciate these workers being here. Like Tom says I’m a professor at the law school in addition to being on city council, so I’ve got tenure. I’ve got some job security and I can’t be fired so I can’t really be intimidated but these workers don’t have tenure. These workers are showing a lot of courage by being out here. Their managers, I’m sure, are looking out the window, are maybe even among you. And they are here anyway, because it’s right to be here, and it’s just, and that’s what they are after: salary equity. I also want to thank the students for being here because I hear — I’ve been teaching at the university for 8 years now — and you always hear that students are not active or engaged and this just goes to show you that they are. I think what we are asking for sounds modest, but it is a challenge none the less. All we really want is the public sector to be geared toward the public. That’s all we want. We want state government, we want city government, we want the University of Memphis to be geared toward the public. And I can tell you that’s a hard thing to do even though it sounds like a simple goal.

I’ve been on the city council a year and a half and we have these same sorts of problems. We don’t respect our city employees in a lot of ways. We don’t treat them humanely. We don’t pay them fair wages in a lot of cases and in fact we cut their pay in order to balance our books whenever necessary and that’s not right. That’s not how you treat folks who are part of your community. So city government, state government, the University of Memphis, the so-called “public sector” is being run like a business. The words you hear all the time are “efficiency” and “the bottom-line” but you never hear words like community. You never hear words like stake-holders and those are what we want to hear. That’s what we’re all about, we’re all about saying we are in this together and we want everyone to prosper.

I read about big pay packages, big pay packages for some at the University of Memphis, basketball coaches, basketball . . . we don’t even know what they do, but I know for sure they’re not getting up at 3 a.m. I know for sure they are not cleaning up what others have left behind and I know for sure they are not working as hard and taking the kind of risks and showing the kind of courage that we see from this staff here today.

The solution is a simple one. The solution has been what it has always been and that is to get organized. Join UCW, support UCW, or join something, because we will have power and we will be able to bend the arc of history towards justice if we are all together.”

Morris Palmer, a member of the Teamster’s Union that is on strike due to working conditions as sanitation worker for Republic Allied, also gave a compelling speech that ended as everyone held hands in prayer.

Read more about the Memphis living wage campaign at the UCW or the WIN website.

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis Flyer and Daily Helmsman have archived articles as well.

Department of Health and Human Services Federal Poverty Guidelines can be found here.They are a bit . . . modest.

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H.O.P.E. on budget proposal

Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality, or H.O.P.E., petitioned the Shelby County Commission today for a slot on its budget proposal — and won.

The group’s three-tiered request “The Road Home” strives to provide additional county funding to join with the city’s grant generated funding to create considerable housing for the city’s chronically homeless.

Brad Watkins from MSPJC said, “Right now there’s a 20 foot plank between us and getting permanent supportive housing for those chronically experiencing homelessness. The city has 15 feet of the plank. We are trying to be the 5 feet they need to get into housing.”

If the proposal passes, 100 of the city’s “most vulnerable” homeless — or those with high levels of disabilities — will find permanent housing as well as medical and mental health care.

A one-time source of $200,000 would be used to restore blighted homes and provide housing for 25 families with disabilities as well as 43 units for low-income families.

 In addition, a veterans court run by Judge Anderson would divert veterans from the criminal justice system and instead treat them for post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities encountered after returning home from war.

The proposal will be voted on during this budget season. Watkins said county budget generally moves quickly through the committee and he believes the proposal will come to vote in the next three weeks.

Watkins stressed the importance of calling  commissioners to show support for the measures.

He said Henry Brooks and Terry Rowland stand to be swayed the most. “We really want them to know that their constituents care about this issue.”

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Nakba solidarity rally in Memphis

On Wednesday human rights activists and allies will gather with signs and flags at the corner of Highland Street and Poplar Avenue in Memphis to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba Day.

Nakba — which means “catastrophe” or “disaster” in Arabic — serves to remind of the Palestinian exodus that accompanied Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 that forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to leave their property.

Dania Helou a Palestinian descendant studying international relations at the University of Memphis said, “Its going to be a positive and uplifting event to celebrate the Palestinian and Palestinian supporters that have been fighting for human rights for the past 64 years.”

At the event meant to spread awareness about the history behind the issues surrounding the Palestine-Israel struggle and to celebrate the work of those fighting for human rights and civility between the two nations, there will be watermelon and water as well as people to speak with about the legacy of the displacement.

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Anti-Putin protests in Russia

As Russia’s President Vladimir Putin took his third term as president on May 7, anti-Putin protestors took to the streets demanding a new election and an hour of airtime to voice their opinions. Putin responded by increasing police force and detaining opposition leaders who helped organize the protests.  Hundreds of the thousands of marchers were arrested. Protests have continued in the days following his re-election.

This article posted on Voice of America’s web page explained that Putin was re-elected into presidential office after serving a four-year term as prime minister.  From 2000 to 2008 Putin served as president before he and then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev swapped positions after term limits restricted Putin from running for a third consecutive term. During President Medvedev’s stint as president (while Putin served as prime minister), an amendment was passed allowing two consecutive six-year presidential terms. While he received 64 percent of the vote, protestors are calling foul on the electorial process.

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Lela Garland wr…

Lela Garland wrote a great article about May Day for the Commercial Appeal. She called it International Worker’s Day and talked about the Communist flag without demoralizing it. She also shaped it out nicely with a small business perspective at the end.  I love Memphis.

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Memphis’s May Day

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Memphis’s Call to Action effortlessly unfolded as solidarity protests around the country honored the celebration of historic labor movements on May Day.

At 1 p.m. H.O.P.E., Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality, held a press conference and demonstration at the corner of Washington and Third Streets downtown in front of the prison commonly referred to as 201 Poplar.  The striated building of brick and windows reached into the blue sky while the wind blew hair and signs alike as fierce words of protest and solidarity with the homeless community left the mouths of the speakers. Brad Watkins an organizer with H.O.P.E. said:

“When you are on the street, who do you go to when the shelter is the problem? Who do you go to the when the police officer is the problem? We are going to work with the department to expose those who exploit and victimize those on the streets and hold them accountable and we are going to deal with the economic and sexual exploitation of those on the streets by people who supposedly in their holiness are supposed to be helping.”  

Lacking a microphone with only a podium to support them, the three speakers, Marian Bacon, Brad Watkins and Paul Garner gave impassioned speeches covering the lack of services for the homeless and criticizing the city’s allocation of resources.  Particularly, the group attacked the new law that makes sleeping on public property a class A misdemeanor, carrying a higher penalty than breaking and entering. The group said the law is unconstitutional and that it unfairly targets the homeless community, a group already suffering on the fringes of society.  Bacon said the police should be targeting the real problem makers, such as thieves and criminals and leave the homeless alone.  Signs read: “Homelessness is not a crime.”   Instead, the group said that homelessness is an indication of a defunct system in need of regeneration. The police department offered a police liason for the organization and training for the officers in how to treat the homeless with more dignity, a step for which H.O.P.E. said they are thankful. The group also said it supports the creation of a veteran’s court that would divert veterans from criminal to general sessions court that focuses on rehabilitation rather than criminalization.

At 2 p.m. the Memphis Bus Riders Union, Occupy Memphis, the Marxist Student UnionSocialist Party and independents advocating for social justice met at what the movement has renamed Ida B. Wells park, formally recognized as Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, and marched down Union Ave. to meet the H.O.P.E. group.  Josue Rodriguez with the MBRU led the group onto a busy Union Avenue as the sidewalk became progressively rough and he was unable to steer his wheelchair clear of the bumps and unramped street corners.

Cars honked while some local businesses cheered the protestors onward. As the group approached downtown, the Communist Party’s flag spread out in the air afront the red letters of Peabody Hotel indicating a diversion from the fear which propogated during the Cold War to a time of heightened tolerance. In typical Southern fashion, the marchers were generally met amicably or indifferently, while only the cars on Union seemed to be upset by the disruption of the traffic flow.

The two groups met around 3 p.m. at the corner of Third and Union where they marched to the Occupy Memphis encampment at the Civic Center Plaza. In front of City Hall, the protestors held a mock city council meeting during which various individuals pretended to be businesses and city councilmen known for their conservative politics.  Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad and Electrolux were key targets of the jests. Representatives of social and environmental justice groups also spoke on behalf of their organizations.  Gaby Benitez with Tennessee Immigrant spoke about several deportation cases ranging from a girl arrested in her prom dress to Benitez’s father who faces deportation after failing to provide a license during a minor traffic violation.  Lawrence Bradshaw brought the relationship between environmental degradation and communities experiencing high rates of poverty.  Specifically targeting the pollution from low flying freight planes she said, “You wonder why people act up over there (referencing South Memphis). People toxins in the blood. . .the people are so toxic over there, they don’t know if they are coming or going.”

The day concluded with the Socialist Party’s May Day celebration at the Buccaneer.  Michael Peery and NOTS provided the musical entertainment while Bennett Foster spun R&B favorites.

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