MEMPHIS, TN - Memphis sanitation workers will soon have a retirement buyout option, but city leaders say they still need to figure out the details of the $13 million dollar plan.
After Councilwoman Janis Fullilove was introduced to an 84-year-old sanitation worker who couldn't afford to retire, she proposed an optional retirement buyout plan to help senior workers.
During a heated meeting focused on the budget on Tuesday, June 21st, 2011, Councilwoman Fullilove told fellow members, "It touched my heart to know that we have people in their 80's, some people with one limb, still working only because they cannot afford to take off from work."
Councilman Harold Collins was in full support of Fullilove's proposal.
"Council Lady Fullilove," he told her, "what you just put on the table, in my opinion, is one of the greatest humanitarian efforts I have ever heard in this city."
The buyout plan passed in a room full of emotional city sanitation workers, who showed up to protest another council member's plan to privatize the sanitation department.
The council overwhelmingly supported the buyout plan, even though no details were outlined. Among the unknowns: who's eligible? Are there age requirements? Or is there a required length of employment?
Councilwoman Wanda Halbert says there are still many questions unanswered.
"This is an excellent gesture," she tells abc24.com, "but there also needs to be some fine tuning."
The plan, as passed, will use $13 million from the city's reserve fund. It's open to all non-probationary employees, which means a worker with at least one year of service. Based on how long the employee's been with the department, they could qualify for a buyout of $40,000 to $60,000. The cash will also come with six months of benefits and a meeting with a financial planner.
With about 600 sanitation workers in the department, the $13 million in the plan could cover more than 300 workers. Which, if they jump on this, Halbert says, the department could lose half its' employees.
"Over the course of the last four years," says Councilwoman Halbert, "we've heard the concerns that we didn't have enough employees. So now if we're allowing them to exit, which is ok, then what do we do with the services? Are we going to rehire or do we send it to an outsourced company? Those are the only two options."
Mayor A C Wharton's office says the city is figuring out the specifics of the multi-million dollar plan. The workers union is involved in the discussion, and they don't have much time.
The new retirement option is set to go into effect on July 1st, 2011.