Charlotte City Council held a public forum on Monday night, and there were quite a few folks who wanted to talk to them. Before the meeting, multiple groups of people met outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to air their grievances, including city workers, CATS workers, Eastland flea market vendors and Ukraine supporters. Then they took it inside to voice their grievances to the actual council.
Multiple groups planned protests in front of the Charlotte-Government Center before Monday night’s meeting. The first group consisted of members of the Charlotte City Workers Union, UE Local 150, who spoke out against the city’s merit-only pay system.
Ahead of council’s deliberations for the fiscal year 2023 city budget, workers are demanding the city end its merit-only system of pay and fully fund a General Employee Step Pay Plan to account for years of service.
Workers are also requesting paid daily overtime, shift differential pay, and a universal sick leave policy. They are also requesting the city pass a resolution in support of a bill in Congress for universal, single-payer health care, aka Medicare for All.
Another group consisted of vendors from an open-air market at the old Eastland Mall site. They are calling on the city to help them find a new home, as the Eastland site will be redeveloped soon, and they’ve were kicked off the property by police on Feb. 11. You can read more about their plight in our latest cover story or on our latest episode of the Nooze Hounds podcast.
At around 5:45 p.m., a group of about two dozen people carrying Ukraine flags and wearing blue and yellow clothing showed up in the plaza. They were there to call on the city to show support for Ukraine in any way they could.
It was then that all four groups merged together to do some chants before eventually entering the meeting chambers.
The Public Forum
To begin the meeting, council members Greg Phipps and Ed Driggs gave speeches remembering their former colleague Claire Fallon, who passed away over the weekend. Fallon served on council from 2011-2017.
Mayor Vi Lyles acknowledged Gov. Roy Cooper’s state sanctions against Russia, announced earlier in the day. She also acknowledged the Ukrainian families in the crowd and the 1,000 Ukrainian nationals living in Charlotte. She said the city had begun the process of severing ties with Voronezh, Charlotte’s sister city in Russia, though there had already been no contact since 2015.
To kick off the public forum, local organizer Kass Ottley told council that the city is leaving its workers behind. “There are people in this room that work two or three jobs and they’re asking for a living wage so they can live and thrive in the city they work so hard for.”
Renee Holzbach, a bus operator for CATS, said she was attacked while on the job by a stranger who came onto the bus and assaulted her, breaking her nose. She said there is a lack of security at CATS. “We are not city employees, but we want to feel as protected as other city workers. We want to feel respected.”
In what could be described as the most impassioned speech of the night, Willis Draughn Jr. said city workers can’t even get the ears of the council for more than 2 minutes each at a public forum and that in itself is the issue: No one is being heard.
Augustin Cruz said he grew up going to the Central Market at the former Eastland site with his parents and learning the value of hard work. He eventually became a vendor there himself. “We are not criminals. We pay taxes. We want the city to respect us like they do larger businesses,” Cruz said.
Claudia Garcia is also a vendor at the market. “We have families and mouths to feed and unfortunately for some of us this is our only chance to do that,” she told council.
Teacher Robert Grauer spoke in support of the Eastland DIY skatepark at the same site, stating that youth are learning valuable life lessons at the park, which he pointed out is more actively used on any given day than public basketball, tennis and volleyball courts in the area.
Dominic Harris, president of the Charlotte City Workers Union, UE Local 150, started his speech with the slogan, “The city works because we do!” He said management is weaponizing the city sick policy to wrongfully fire workers.
CATS bus operator Gia Lockhart said she has also been assaulted on the job. “Mayor, I love my city and I love my job, but you are allowing this man right here to bring it down,” she said, pointing directly at CATS CEO John Lewis, who was in attendance. As the last speaker, Lockhart got a large applause and chants as she wrapped up the public forum.
Mayor Vi Lyles said the council would have a lot to think about after hearing from city workers on Monday night and promised they would take it all into consideration during upcoming budget discussions. Someone in the crowd then yelled “Fire John Lewis!” to applause.
The only speaker signed up to talk about Ukraine on Monday night was wait-listed and did not get to speak because everyone in front of her showed up. Mayor Vi Lyles spoke to a couple of the Ukraine supporters in the crowd. during a short recess following the public forum.
Council will meet for a strategy session on Monday, March 7. Their next budget workshop, the second of three, is scheduled for March 9.