Flint, MI– The Flint City Council voted to spend approximately $3 million of incoming American Rescue Plan Act funds to give premium pay to public safety employees and essential workers.
In March of 2021, the city learned that it would be receiving be receiving $94.7 million as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic.
Before the Feb. 14 council meeting, the only item the council had voted to spend the money on was a one-year contract with a compliance firm to help ensure they spend the rest of the money correctly. The money has specific eligible uses which are outlined in a 437-page document.
One eligible use is “to respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers.”
On Feb. 14, the council approved two resolutions related to premium pay. The first resolution will give premium pay to qualifying Flint Police Department sworn officers, Flint Fire Department certified fire suppression personnel, and qualifying public safety civilian support personnel.
Police and fire department employees will receive an additional $5 per hour worked between June 14, 2020, through June 12, 2021, not to exceed the maximum of $10,400. The public safety civilian support personnel would receive an additional $2.50 per hour worked between the same dates, not to exceed $5,200.
The administration estimates that this would amount to $1,447,379 for 163 public safety employees.
The second resolution will give premium pay to qualifying American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees. The qualifying AFSCME personnel will receive an additional $3 per hour worked between the same dates, not to exceed $6,240.
The administration estimates that this would amount to $1,272,705 for 265 employees. During the council meeting, Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan said these employees include “snowplow drivers, street workers, water line maintenance, sanitary, sewer, water pollution control.”
The audience at the council meeting erupted in applause after the council voted to approve the two resolutions, but the votes weren’t unanimous.
While every council member said they supported police and fire personnel and essential city workers, two members said they were concerned about hearing from residents first, developing a whole spending plan, leveraging other funds, and “promises” made by the administration to these workers.
“The COVID money has been promised. It’s beyond overdue. … You guys are promising money. The guys have put their life on the line day in day out, living paycheck to paycheck,” said Flint Police Officer and President of the Flint Police Officers association Kevin Smith.
President of the AFSCME Local 1600 for the city of Flint, Sam Muma, also said the money had been promised.
“Our union members that work for the city of Flint … are very much trying to get what they were committed to nothing more, nothing less. A commitment was given to us back in November,” Muma said.
He went on to say that he was “not asking for anything other than what was brought to our attention by the current administration, which was, ‘Here’s the plan we want to do.’”
Councilwoman Eva Worthing said she “resented” the fact that the administration had promised funds without their input.
“This was not anything the council was a part of. It was something that was done without our input, and it’s about to be voted in without our residents’ input,” Worthing said about the resolution for premium pay for police.
She said she was “unhappy” to be voting on the resolution before hearing from her constituents, but ultimately voted in favor of the resolution “due to staffing and morale,” at the department. Worthing did not vote in favor of the resolution for essential workers, and said she wasn’t against it, but wanted to hear from constituents first.
Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder voted against both resolutions, but said it was about “the process.”
“I wholeheartedly support the police. … However, I cannot approve the premium pay as it stands right now because we have the opportunity to leverage it against state funds and federal funds to be able to provide you with more,” she said. “ We cannot leverage those dollars if they are not there.”
But for some council members, these resolutions were a “no brainer.”
“We’ve got to take care of our own first. We got to take care of our Police Department. We got to take care of our Flint Fire Department. We got to take care of our public safety personnel,” said Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter. “They’ve been out there working all through the pandemic, risking their lives, jeopardizing their lives or their families.”
Regarding the resolution to give premium pay to city workers, Councilwoman Ladel Lewis said she recently spoke to a woman working in the customer service department who had been working for the city for 22 years, and hadn’t received a raise in 11 years.
“But she said, ‘but I love my job.’ So with that being said, I would be remiss not to support it,” Lewis said about the resolution. “Because people, they are taking a big sacrifice, and I’m not talking about just during COVID. We’re just talking about a lot of people, they are taking a financial hit just working for our city.”
Council President Eric Mays said it wouldn’t be right for the council to pass only one of these resolutions.
“I would hate to wake up in the morning and you got public safety happy and other people around the city trippin’. That ain’t cool,” Mays said.
Flint Police Officer William Metcalfe spoke to the council and urged them to pass the resolutions.
“This is what the money is for. It’s for the essential workers. And you know, that’s who we need to think about first, and if something comes up later, then you know, maybe we could go for that, too,” Metcalfe said. “But at this time, let’s take care of the guys. The ones that we’re supposed to be taking care of.”
The resolution for public safety officers passed with 8 to 1, with the lone no vote from Herkenroder. The resolution for qualifying essential workers passed with 7 to 2, with two no votes from Herkenroder and Worthing.