A majority of Lexington city sanitation workers have petitioned the local government for recognition as a union.
On Wednesday, petition cards authorizing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to represent city sanitation workers were submitted to the city's chief administrative officer, Richard Moloney. The authorization cards were signed by more than 60 percent of the city's approximately 190 sanitation workers.
Joe Phelps, assistant director of AFSCME Council 62, said his organization had not been able to contact some city sanitation workers. He said only two or three workers had refused to sign cards.
"They were eager for getting a union," Phelps said of sanitation employees. "We feel that all of the employees of the city should have an equal voice at the table."
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Moloney said he would discuss the matter with city law department staffers and other city administrators within the next few days.
Phelps said that if the local government does not recognize the sanitation workers as a union, there would be a public campaign.
Increased city health insurance costs for the sanitation workers is a major reason they are seeking unionization, Phelps said. The workers' contributions toward health insurance premiums have almost tripled during the past year, he said.
Work assignments and pay discrepancies are other major issues for the sanitation workers, Phelps said. He said longtime sanitation workers are not being paid as much as newcomers.
Phelps noted that the union could not strike under a local government ordinance. He said the union would work as an ally and not as an enemy of local government.
The majority of sanitation workers' approval of unionization became another cause for celebration at the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Division of Waste Management's 13th annual Pride Day Celebration on Wednesday.
Pride Day recognizes city sanitation workers' public service and marks the anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. King was killed several days after leading a march in support of Memphis sanitation workers, who were protesting wages and working conditions.
The Pride Day event, held at the Lyric Theatre, included musical performances by current and retired city sanitation workers and a talk by Baxter Leach, a retired Memphis sanitation worker and AFSCME member who marched with King. He now operates a soul food restaurant in Memphis.
"You all have done a good job," Leach told sanitation workers at the event, noting that they have to work during all types of weather. "You have to stick together."
Many people in the audience jumped to their feet when local sanitation worker David Spears began playing his harmonica and singing a song celebrating King's life and the coming of a union.
"Lexington is no better than Memphis in 1968," the Rev. Troy Thomas of St. Paul A.M.E. Church told the crowd in a rousing speech that also included references to the recent shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and a controversy about President Barack Obama's birthplace.
Former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council member George Brown said a local sanitation worker's job puts the worker in harm's way every day and is the most hazardous job in city government.
"Keep up the fight. Collectively you all can change this thing," Brown said.
"I thank God for letting me retire from the sanitation department," Edward "Big Daddy" Jointer said before breaking into song.