AUSTIN, Texas - Austin city employees who worked in the office or in public during the COVID-19 pandemic will soon receive hazard pay. However, first responders are being excluded from that additional income.
City employees said they were sent a memo Monday explaining who will be eligible for "COVID Enhancement Pay."
Police, fire, and EMS associations said although they never asked for hazard pay, they were still disappointed to learn their members will not qualify for it.
“So Austin is the only city, that I know about, that is doing hazard pay and purposely excludes first responders. I don't think I've seen any other city that is doing that. Most other places are doing hazard pay specifically for first responders, but Austin is excluding them,” said Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association.
Austin's police, fire and EMS association presidents said their members are confused and insulted by the city's manager's decision to offer hazard pay to all city employees not working from home except first responders.
“If they're going to give the money to people because of their COVID hazard, why not give it to people actually suffering the biggest hazard, police, fire, and EMS, the frontline people that are dealing with COVID positive people every day,” said Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association.
“It's disrespectful and there's not even a thank you. That would, actually, have been appreciated, but there's not even that,” said Ken Casaday, Austin Police Association President.
The “COVID enhancement pay" will be distributed to city employees who worked at least two days per week in the office, or were required to work in the field, for at least six pay periods between March 15- July 4.
Those eligible will receive a one-time payout between $250-1,000 depending on the average number of hours worked.
Sworn employees, meaning uniformed police, fire, and EMS, are not eligible.
“It’s just so demotivational that I'm gonna have to go to my members, explain to them that everybody, people like supply workers and sanitation workers, will be getting COVID pay, but you're not. I's hard to look at that any other way than an insult,” Nicks said.
“You know, their argument is that we're already paid well. Well, I think all city employees are paid pretty well. And to offer it to the civilian employees and not the the first responders, it's just disrespectful and a slap in the face of every first responder in the city,” said Casaday.
Xie said medics are running about 50 COVID-19 calls a day right now, while firefighters and police officers on the frontlines are now risking their family's lives to keep the public safe.
“To say that somebody who has to go into their office is going to get hazard pay, but somebody who is literally working in the streets will not get hazard pay, has really hurt morale and just hurt the feelings of our medics that are taking care of people in the city and taking care of people that have COVID,” Xie said.
All three association presidents are working to schedule a meeting with the city manager or his assistant to try and convince them to reconsider.
The enhancement pay is expected to be included in employee's August 21 paycheck.
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