Memphis 'blue flu' action has no known leader, complicating the city's response

Since the "blue flu" action began last week, none of the Memphis police officers or firefighters claiming illness has stepped forward as a leader of the movement and presented a list of demands. That anonymity makes it difficult for the city to apply any of the techniques it could otherwise use to end a strike, such as going to court to seek an injunction or punishing the strikers. A 1978 city ordinance says any employee who participates in a strike automatically forfeits their job. Some observers in Memphis are calling for the city to punish the workers who are claiming sickness and the city has already announced stricter enforcement of existing sick leave policy. But any heavy-handed discipline could backfire, said Marick Masters, professor of management for Wayne State University’s School of Business Administration and director of Labor@Wayne. "Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to fire them all and then replace them? That would be very costly. Are you going to fine them all, dock their pay for a day? Are you going to challenge all of the sicknesses?" Workers could claim that their sicknesses were real and contest their punishment through formal complaints known as grievances. The city might find itself flooded with those claims, he said. He said a better way is to try to negotiate a settlement.

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