‘When they call us, we show up’: Hinds Co. public works employees fight for raises
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Dozens of Hinds County public works employees stood in solidarity Tuesday morning, with one message to the board of supervisors: give us a raise.
With the sun blaring down, workers held a rally outside the public works headquarters in Raymond.
They were protesting a vote by the board a day earlier to deny giving workers a $300-a-month pay raise.
Had it been approved, some said the raise would have been the first increase workers in the department had received since 2016.
However, County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones, who would not comment on the strike itself, said all county employees will receive a $100-a-month pay raise as part of the 2022-23 fiscal year. He said board members approved the pay raise as part of budget negotiations earlier this summer.
Several workers decided to take the day off in protest, using paid leave. Others opted to go back to work following the rally, saying they’re still dedicated to serving the residents of Hinds County.
“At night, late nights, storms, debris, lightning, rain, you name it. When they call us, we show up and do our job,” said Willie Dotson, a public works superintendent in District 2. “When we signed on here at Hinds County, we agreed to come out at night and do these types of jobs. And the only thing we’re looking for is a return.”
“You got guys here who are not bringing home $1,200 a month,” he added. “So, you know that $300 will help out a lot. It will help out a lot, and I’m quite sure every man here would agree with what I’m saying.”
Monday, the board voted 3-2 to deny giving public works employees a $300-a-month across-the-board pay raise. Voting against the increase were Supervisors Credell Calhoun, Vern Gavin, and Bobby McGowan. Voting in favor was Supervisors David Archie and Robert Graham.
District 2 Supervisor David Archie attended the rally and spoke to reporters and workers.
He says he supports the employees, and their decision to strike and will work to ensure no employees are targeted for speaking out.
“When I came to this office two and a half years ago, one of the first things mentioned was that Hinds County public works employees were treated badly. It was stated to me that the first thing that needed to be done was present a pay raise,” he said. “For those employees that have been here many years, those that have been here a few years, they needed more.”
“The leadership of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors [have] talked about providing monies and pay raises... but it has not been done,” he said.
Excluding the $100 increase mentioned by Jones, the last pay raise for public works was in 2016, according to acting Public Works Director Charles Sims. He said crew members start at around $1,800 a month. Based on the current inflation rate, employees should be earning around $22,212 a year.
“Gas is up, food is up. Everything’s up except the wages of Hinds County employees,” said one worker who identified himself only as Stanley. Stanley sat behind the driver’s seat of a county dump truck. “I’m not on strike. I’m at work right now, ready to go to work... What we’re saying is we need a raise in order to keep doing what we’re doing.”
To make ends meet, many crew members take on second and third jobs. One employee told WLBT he cuts grass on the weekend to keep a little extra money in his pocket. Another works on a farm in the evening.
Sims says he doesn’t support a work stoppage but gets why employees are upset. “What the price of gas is, COVID and everything else, it hurts, you know, and you’re not being paid what you should be paid,” he said. “I mean, you know, hamburger meat costs as much as a steak used to.”
Sims says he’s not authorized to give pay raises but can promote employees, which allows them to earn more. “I’ve been trying to give them a raise in groups,” he told reporters gathered at his office. “I’ve been trying to get some of them a raise since August, but it’s been put off and put off, just like yesterday, I sent in for three people to move up, but they said they got to hold back.”
The director said he doesn’t know if he can stop anyone from striking, and said he would have to get an attorney general’s opinion to find out.
Archie also made motions to increase pay by $300 a month for justice court workers and $6,000 a year for attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office. All raises would have gone into effect on November 1. The 2022-23 fiscal year budget goes into effect on October 1.
For his part, Jones says the county is looking at giving public works and central repair workers a raise during next year’s budget, once the county has a better idea of where revenues stand. “We have to raise them up to a decent living wage,” he said.
Supervisor Credell Calhoun echoed those concerns, saying that down the road, the board can make some adjustments. “That’s possible... but right now we don’t know what we can do,” he said.
Archie, though, says the time for talk is over. “We’ve been negotiating long enough,” Archie said. “We’ve been talking long enough. It’s time to show some actions.”
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