McClendon invokes King with sanitation luncheon
West Memphis mayor takes opportunity to thank workers By John Rech
West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon marked the occasion of the late Rev. Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
birthday on Wednesday to announce a higher minimum wage for city workers. King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 while leading efforts to improve working conditions for sanitation workers in the Bluff City. Just 15 miles from the Lorraine Motel where King was shot dead, West Memphis Sanitation workers gathered at the city shop for a luncheon to hear McClendon state his intent to raise their starting pay this year to $14 per hour.
“Dr. King’s last cause was for sanitation workers,” said McClendon. “This is a way to thank our city family members in our public works department for all they do in the community.”
The mayor commended the efforts of the entire department.
“I want to commend you all for doing such an outstanding job,” said McClendon. “We have asked you to do many things that we haven’t done in the past but our city is truly being cleaned up. I appreciate that. We want to do the things that make West Memphis better and it starts with you.”
The mayor attempted to smooth over lingering negative feelings with employees because the city had no year end bonus to offer.
“I know many of you feel upset about the bonuses not coming in,” said McClendon. “I understand that. For years you got them, many years.”
The public works employees applauded as McClendon said the wage threshold for city workers would increase for 50 city workers making less than $14.00 per hour.
“I have always voted for a man or a woman to make a livable wage.” said McClendon. “An ordinance is being prepared to bring everybody working for the city of West Memphis making less than $14.00 per hour to bring them up to $14.00 an hour.”
The newly proposed bottom wage amounted to an annual earning of $29,120 per year plus benefits. According to Arkansas Workforce statistics, the per capita income in the county was $33,335. The U.S.
Census Bureau reported personal income in the county declined 2.15% in 2017. McClendon pointed to the need for increasing low end wages in city government jobs.
“I know some individuals in this room working here going on 30 years, making $12.65 an hour; you cannot feed a family off that wage, ” said McClen- don.
McClendon said in an interview on WREG television a day earlier, the new minimum would raise wages for 50 city employees and cost the city $200,000.
In comparison, three percent raises or bonuses for the entire city workforce across 375 positions cost almost $400,000 each in recent years.
Plans for the increase were not part of the new 2020 budget.
Instead, McClendon told Channel 3 that money saved by not filling some job openings and restricting spending would offset the expected $200,000 hit to the city budget for the raise.
“In certain departments we may have some space where we may not fill an employee opening or two to cover these overages,” said McClendon, “We may look at not getting so many things we need to cover but still get the job done.”
In comparison, the new ambulance purchase city council has under consideration would cost $220,000.
The wage proposal was being drafted as the mayor spoke to sanitation workers.
McClendon expected it for reading at city council meetings beginning in February. Normal consideration for new ordinances are heard three times by city council and may take six weeks. A full month would be required to go into effect assuming city council adopted the plan, making mid-March the earliest date for the increased pay rate. With the plan in draft form no announcements were made by the mayor about stepping up pay for the remaining lower paid tiers in city ranks.