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City council examining motion to provide city workers hazard pay

Cincinnati City Hall at night
Posted at 5:29 PM, Feb 01, 2021

CINCINNATI — A new motion, submitted by Cincinnati City Council member Greg Landsman, to provide City of Cincinnati workers with hazard pay during the pandemic is under examination and will go to a full vote on Wednesday.

From COVID-19 testing to vaccine distribution to snow preparations and roadway cleanup, city employees haven't stopped working since the pandemic began and can't safely or effectively do their jobs from home.

"Work has gone on and no one has had a break in service," said Renita Jones-Street, regional director of AFSCME, the union which represents roughly 1,800 city employees. "Your water is still flowing. Your sewer is still going the right way."

The union represents many city employees, from nurses to those in public works, and Jones-Street said many of these workers are among the lowest-paid city employees. The union has decided to push for more support for these workers as the pandemic continues on.

"They are going through the times," said Maurice Brown, with AFSCME. "They've been there for these 50 weeks. And sometimes they feel like they're not recognized."

Landsman said he hopes to make up for all of that with the new motion, which calls for a lump-sum payment of no less than $1,000 for low-wage, critical front-line workers.

"They happen to have some of the hardest jobs, but also some of the lowest pay," said Landsman. "This is a good test to see how much we value our workers. I'm all in. This is the least we can do."

Cincinnati isn't the first city to consider something like this. According to a study by the Brookings Institution, cities in California as well as Seattle have passed ordinances relating to hazard pay for essential workers. But, those ordinances mandated food retailers and pharmacies pay their employees hazard pay.

Some states have used CARES Act funding to create hazard pay programs.

It's unclear where the money would come from and city officials have not released any information about a plan for that, but Landsman said the city should be able to find it, much as it has during contract negotiations for police.

"At the end of the day, these are our workers," he said. "They're the folks who make our city run. And we have an opportunity to make sure we do what's right by them."

If the motion passes on Wednesday, the administration will likely come back with a report to show if it's feasible or not, and who would receive the money.