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<br />Council’s Conrad pushes back on pushback to privatization

Kemp Conrad has been the target of anonymously posted videos on YouTube and personal threats delivered via Twitter since he suggested a new contract for the sanitation department and its historic union. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

City Councilman Kemp Conrad on Wednesday made an impassioned declaration: “I am no right wing zealot and I think my associations in life have proven that.”

 Kemp Conrad

Conrad, the Super District 9, Position 1 seat holder, has been the target of anonymously posted videos on YouTube and personal threats delivered via Twitter since he suggested a new contract for the sanitation department and its historic union, Local 1733 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. He says his proposal has been totally misunderstood.

The proposal is available for study on his website at www.kempconrad.com. Conrad said he knew he would be stepping into a minefield with the proposal and opening himself up for pushback.

So why do it?

“My core goal is to address the equality of opportunity. We cannot go forward like this. The discrepancy between the black and white economies has got to change,” Conrad said in an interview with the New Tri-State Defender. “We have to seek solutions to create efficiencies to get the investment dollars to put it where it impacts us on issues that we need to address on the front end instead of trying to pay for, which we cannot, on the back end.”

Conrad noted that has advocated for the Child Impact Study, on behalf of the homeless, reducing the births of teenage mothers, increasing early childhood education and growing more minority owned business.  

“The county says it cannot even afford to spend $400,000 to provide office space for early childhood development and that investment creates $6 million in federal support.  The city should be investing in support (of) that effort, but we have to find efficiencies to do so. That’s what this is all about,” said Conrad.

On June 21, the City Council again takes up the task of filling an $11 million funding gap for the city budget for next year. A 13-hour session could not bring about resolution last week.

The budget challenges cry out for recognition that it is time to face facts, said Conrad.

“As it stands now, all the sanitation workers get when they retire is Social Security.  I think their union is not looking out for their best interest and is only interested in keeping them paying dues. They have to get their head out of the sand,” said Conrad.

The city is broke and cannot continue to do business as usual, he said.

“We have a privatized section of the city where the average is 1,000 pickups per day versus 400 for the city workers. We have an incentive plan that pays people for eight hours work when they have not put in a full day. We can no longer afford these things.”       

About the pushback

The YouTube videos that have caused safety concerns show images of the wives and children of council members and are posted under the name “Tennessee Labor.” A city probe is underway to pull “Tennessee Labor” out of anonymity.

Shelly Seeburg, AFSCME Local 1733 administrator and spokesperson, noted the situation in a recent written statement that made reference to the “current attack on public service workers in Memphis, specifically sanitation workers, and the public services they provide to this community.”

AFSCME Local 1733’s leadership and staff have had nothing to do with any of the Tennessee Labor postings, wrote Seeburg, adding that the union is supportive of the right of freedom of speech, but does not condone including family members of elected officials in the mix.

“The public service workers of Memphis have the constitutional right to raise their concerns about matters of public policy as do all Americans, and will do so, especially when we and the vital public services we provide are under attack,” said Seeburg.

“We support and encourage a positive public discussion that helps Memphis move toward a brighter future.”

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