Unions Renew Push For ARPA Hazard Pay To City Employees Who Risked Covid Exposure [UPDATED]

Print More

Gary Caldwell for ELi

City Council yielded to requests to pay certain City staff a bonus out of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, but some union leaders are still not satisfied. 

In a letter written to Council on Jan. 24, a coalition of City union leaders said that “compensation for the hazards faced by City employees still needs to be addressed,” asserting that the City’s current plan does not suffice. The same group of union heads made a similar request around the end of 2021, which helped spur the bonuses to begin with — that original request came after several ARPA draft plans left out bonuses to City employees. 

The union heads who signed the letter represent East Lansing firefighters, police officers, police support workers, public works employees, and East Lansing Public Library employees. 

Basically, the union leaders want specific bonuses to be paid out to “address the extreme risk employees and their families faced in service to the citizens of our community. There is no doubt employees are deserving of hazard pay in recognition of their sacrifice in putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 to ensure the safety of the City’s citizens and continuation of essential services,” the letter states. 

The new letter to City Council concludes by requesting that Council go into a closed session at its next meeting to discuss this request with these union leaders. Council did not do that at its Jan. 25 meeting and there was no discussion of the renewed request for bonuses tied to Covid risk. The letter itself was tacked on to the agenda as an add-on communication shortly before the Jan. 25 meeting. 

When ELi asked City Council members for insight on their next steps after receiving the most recent letter from these union leaders, Mayor Ron Bacon said, “We are satisfied [with the] benefit levels, the process and our decision.”

On Jan. 11, Council approved a resolution proposed by City Manager George Lahanas to use up to $675,000 of the $12.2 million the City received via ARPA to pay City staff hazard bonuses.

According to the current plan, all employees on the books with the City as of Feb. 6, 2022, will be awarded a retention bonus. Full-time employees will get a one-time payment of $2,000 and part-time employees a one-time payment of $1,000. When Lahanas outlined the proposal to Council, he referred to the ARPA bonuses for City staff as “retention bonuses,” and not as something tied to the various risks assumed by employees during the pandemic.

The City’s plan to award bonuses to current employees also excludes some workers who were considered to be at the front lines during the pandemic if they are no longer employed by the City. 

“As a retention bonus and to award people who are here working, not for people who were here in the past,” said Lahanas.

The plan deviates from the payout matrix the union leaders suggested to Council, which proposed awarding sums of money to individuals based on the Covid-19 hazards associated with their position with the City. 

Union leaders’ recommendations for bonuses would award as much as $9,000 to a firefighter or police officer, $7,500 for a Department of Public Works employee, and $1,500 to an administrative assistant who interacted with the public.

In the new letter, the union leaders stated their disapproval for how the original request was handled. The letter indicated that they are not protesting the retention bonuses that Lahanas would like to offer employees for their continued service to the City, but making clear that the currently-adopted plan misses the mark on the unions’ request, and also on the purpose that these ARPA funds were designed for. 

Per the Interim Final Rule, the rules that explain how ARPA funds can be used at the local level, premium pay, or hazard pay, is meant to support employees who endured great risk at their jobs during the pandemic, and it is one of four ways cities can use the funds. 

UPDATE [Feb. 2, 2022 at 9:35 a.m.]: After reading this article, a reader contacted East Lansing Info to notify us that contingent workers for the City of East Lansing would also be eligible for a one-time retention bonus. The resolution passed by Council instituted a bonus for non-contingent full and part-time employees.

According to a letter sent by City Manager to the City’s department directors on Jan. 26, “The plan establishes a 12-week qualifying period of February 7, 2022 through May 1, 2022, with bonus payments based on hours worked during that period. Contingent employees must be active and employed on May 15, 2022 in order to receive the payment. Payments will be made to employees on May 20, 2022.”

Those who begin employment with the City after Feb. 7, will be eligible for a bonus but at a reduced rate. Planned bonuses for those work the entire 12-week period range from $100 to $500.

Correction: This article had erroneously stated that the letter from the union leaders was added to the Council agenda after the meeting, when in fact, it had been added shortly before. We apologize for this error.

Comments are closed.