MEMPHIS, Tenn. - “How many of Shelby County’s 25 largest employers pay 15 dollars an hour?” It’s a question one local nonprofit set out to answer to honor Dr. King’s fight against poverty in Memphis.
A new study reveals how Memphis' 25 largest employers are paying their employees.
The group "MLK50: Justice Through Journalism" surveyed the 25 largest companies and government employees with a variety of questions, mainly, how many employees make $15 or more an hour.
It’s been 50 years since Dr. King was in Memphis to march alongside the sanitation workers, as part of his larger efforts with the Poor People’s Campaign, and push for living wagers.
According to the report, "half of those 25 companies, which combined employ more than 160,000 workers, didn’t respond to the questions. A third refused to reply to the survey at all."
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“I think it's important if we are going to think about Dr. king in this moment, that we really racking with what he came to Memphis for, and that was low-wage workers who were underpaid. What better time to ask Memphis' largest employers what they pay their workers,” said Wendi Thomas, founder of the MLK: Justice Through Journalism project.
Last month, Thomas said she emailed ten wage-related questions the 25 largest employers in Memphis.
The group heard back quickly from some employers, like the City of Memphis and Shelby County Schools. Other companies took longer, some dodged the questions, and others did not reply at all.
The City of Memphis said 85% of city employees make more than $15 an hour.
Shelby County Schools paid 83% $15 or more, and recently announced they are increasing all their employees to that number.
Shelby County Government pays 97% more than $15.
International Paper pays 100% more than $15 an hour.
UT Health Science Center pays 91% more than $15 an hour, while Regional One Health is at 81%. Saint Francis Health Care pays 88% more than $15, which some experts say is the living wage in 2018.
“Throughout America, including Memphis, we've made a lot of progress. But we have a long way to go,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
Thomas said many companies did not respond to the request for wage information:
“They are The Kroger Co., DeSoto County School District, XPO Logistics Supply Chain, Technicolor, Century Management Inc., Memphis Light, Gas & Water, Nike Inc. and the University of Memphis.”
“If they want to say that they pay their workers a living wage, chances are that they don't,” said Wendi Thomas.
When asked about how the city is encouraging large employers to provide better wages, Mayor Strickland said the city, “offers pilots and incentives, and only incentivize livable wages, which in Memphis is about 12 and a half dollars.”
Memphis has certainly made progress since Dr. King’s death, but the historic Civil Rights Icon and pastor would almost certainly still be fighting for change.
“I think [King] wouldn't be surprised actually because there's always going to be the struggle between capitalism and the people,” said Thomas. “It was something that he was very critical of and I think it something we need to think critically about today.”
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