City firemen joined policemen yesterday in a wildcat strike that threatened to leave this city of 650,000 without any of its normal emergency services.
The Tennessee National Guard and Shelby County sheriff's deputies continued to patrol the streets, as they have sure Saturday, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew, imposed Friday, remained in effect.
The fourth night of a civil emergency in the city fell amid turmoil in both police and fire unions, as rank-and-file members defied their leaders and court orders to return to work.
Mayor Wyseth Chandler said striking police, who have been off the job for four days, may pick up their last paychecks at city hall this morning. He said the city administration, which issued a strike ultimatum Saturday, considers disobedient police officers to have resigned.
Chandler said he may be forced to issue an ultimatum against strikers in the fire department as well. However, the effectiveness of the wildcat walkout was unclear late yesterday and fire commanders said they expected to have adequate manpower to handle the normal number of fire calls.
Four days ago the Memphis Police Association, representing 1,000 of the department's 1,500 officers, rejected a wage offer calling for a 17 percent raise over two years.
Memphis firemen met yesterday morning to vote on essentially the same wage package. Urging acceptance of the offer, fire union president Kuhron Huddleston told the membership, "If you're going to follow me, it's going to be to the engine house."
The votes never were tallied as firemen hoisted placards and set up picket lines. Within moments fire engines were driven out of the stations to two National Guard armories to avoid possible vadalism.
Generally, city officials seemed to have profited by the experience of a three-day firemen's strike in July when a wave of arson-related fires swept through the city.
National Guardsmen have been supporting sheriffs deputies in partrolling the streets. Few arrests have been made, mostly on drunk and disorderly charges. The crime rate has been low. And Memphis motorist, who have a reputation for bad driving, seem to be observing the speed limits.
About 1,200 guardsmen were in the city yesterday. Their chief duty is to patrol the fire stations. They are under orders to keep their M16 automatic rifles unloaded.
Yesterday, about 100 police complied with Chandlers ultimatum to return to work or be dropped from the city payroll. However, Chandler said, the returning officers were sent home after they received telephone threats, apparently from hard-line strikers.
Chandler said he has no plans to reopen talks with the police association. He said he will appear before the City Council this morning to urge the recognition of the union be withdrawn.
"I don't think we can offer them anything more and be fair to the citizens who are paying the taxes," Chandler said yesterday. "The problem is the police association doesn't have any leadership. They send us a representative takes it out into the mob and the offer is screamed down."
About 60 striking police officers were arrested early yesterday morning for violating the curfew. They were arrested outside central police headquarters after a few shots were fired into the air. They were released on their own recognizance by a City Court judge yesterday.
Police union president David Barker has encouraged officers to return to work but was shouted off a makeshift podium Saturday night.
The city personnel office yesterday publicized telephone numbers for those applying to become policemen and firemen in a crash training program.