Widgets Magazine

By Tony Jones, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

A protest on Tuesday outside of the Greater Memphis Chamber – and the business leaders group known as Memphis Tomorrow – was necessary to bring attention to what is missing in Memphis – economic equity, said activists who rallied under the banner of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens.

Keedran Franklin alerted social media of the protest with a statement describing it as an “informational picket and INDICTMENT against the Chamber of Commerce and Memphis Tomorrow for the crimes of aiding, abetting, distributing and perpetrating poverty in Memphis, TN.”

The day after, Franklin and street activist Frank Gottie said they stand on the statement. One of the real problems, they pointed out, is the widespread use of temporary employment services.

For about three years, Gottie has been advocating for street peace through an organization dubbed (Put The Gun Down) Fight Like A Man. He said it is totally committed to the aims of the Coalition Of Concerned Citizens.

“We just want a better future for the people of Memphis, Gottie told The New Tri-State Defender. “That’s why we wanted to go down there (to the Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow) because we know they’re the ones that control the temporary services, and the temporary services are the ones enslaving people. It may be a $13 an hour job and they pay you minimum wage. That’s just wrong.

“And they say they want the crime rate to come down,” said Gottie. “How are people supposed to eat? You lock us up, then expect us to go get a job. You go through the temporary services, they work you for seven days then go get you off the line, talking about they missed something in your background. Now you don’t have job. Then you have to wait two weeks for that check. And when it comes it has to go to bills.”

People are being hurt in all kinds of ways and trying to get help, said Gottie.

“I’m talking about the real street guys. They’re crying for help, but man, these people aren’t trying to help; not for real. We had that big meeting and people came down there begging for help, but they still haven’t reached out to the brothers.”

Franklin said “the power” of the temp services was one of the main points made during the meeting with Mayor Jim Strickland at Greater Imani Church – Cathedral of Faith the day after protesters shut down the Hernando Desoto Bridge.

“I’ve worked at jobs where the temp agency wouldn’t let me get hired because they felt I was more of an asset for them. And it happens all the time,” he said. “There is a union movement at Electrolux trying to get people hired. They’re bringing in people through the temp agencies instead of hiring them. All we want is equity.

“These companies have tax incentives where they don’t have to pay taxes for 15 or more years and they’re still not paying the workers. That’s not equity. That’s like enslaving people again.”

The protesters congregated on Front Street between Madison and Jefferson. At one point, Phil Trenary, president of the Greater Memphis Chamber and its chief executive officer, ventured out to talk with them.

“It was a very respectful meeting. We have far more common objectives than anything different,” Trenary said on Wednesday.

“The most important thing is we agreed to have a very open dialogue. I invited them to come back Monday at 11 o’clock… to bring anyone (they want). Our doors are open. We will lay out what we’re doing…to break the cycle of poverty, increase minority contracting, lowering the rate of unemployment in the African-American community. They can share with us (their) concerns. What the business community should be doing that it is not. Hopefully we’ll find…common ground, which I believe we will.”

Trenary was asked if he thought the city’s business leader would actually listen to the concerns coming from the group?

“The business community is invested heavily in this,” said Trenary, pointing to what he viewed as successful moves in creating jobs, lowering employment, increasing the number of middle-class jobs and providing skills training for young people to go to work.

“Perhaps we haven’t done as nearly a good job as we should in letting people know that.”

Asked about the concerns Gottie and Franklin detailed about temporary services, Trenary said, “We can’t just say we don’t want any more of certain types of jobs. What we can say is here is where we want to focus our efforts and that’s on the middle-class jobs and higher-paying jobs that traditionally are not temp jobs.”