Lives of the Sanitation Workers

Wages and working conditions for Memphis sanitation workers were atrocious. The average pay was $1.80 an hour. The wages were so low that forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare and many worked second jobs. They lifted leaky garbage tubs into decrepit trucks and were treated unfairly. During foul weather, black workers were sent home without pay while the white workers were paid a full day. There were neither benefits, vacation, nor pension. The sanitation department refused to modernize ancient equipment used by the black workers. Black sanitation workers were called 'walking buzzards.'

From the I Am A Man Exhibit Symposium

Wayne State University Walter P. Reuther Library

AFSCME leader Bill Lucy discusses the working conditions for sanitation workers in Memphis when they went on strike for union recognition in 1968. Filmed 10/10/2003. Digitized August 2011. Clip extracted December 2011.

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31 Show up to Replace Strikers. (Creator: Brown, Charles A.; Date: 1968-03)

This January 31, 1968 pay stub for a Memphis sanitation worker shows he earned $137.13 for 90 hours of work. This translates to $849.95 in 2010. (Date: 1968-01-31)

Members of Memphis Local 1733 are seated on benches during the 1968 sanitation workers' strike. (Date: 1968)