Suffolk wants employee hazard pay process to appear ‘fair,’ avoiding conflicts that arose in other cities


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Suffolk’s city manager wants to make sure that before any COVID-19 “hazard pay” funding is given out, the process is as fair and equitable as it can be.

On Wednesday afternoon, City Manager Patrick Roberts told City Council members he wants to avoid issues seen in other cities like Virginia Beach and Portsmouth where employees have felt they were unfairly left out.

Part of the problem is that the money set aside by the federal government for “hazard pay” comes with very specific instructions.

When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) earlier this year, they set aside $150 billion for the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Virginia received about $3.1 billion from the fund and has distributed the money to localities based on population.

When it comes to hazard pay, Congress reserves it for “public safety, public health, health care, human services and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

“If I was to apply this quite literally out of the federal language it would be unfair and I couldn’t support it,” Roberts said.

Norfolk and Virginia Beach used local money in their own budgets to compensate other employees who were not covered under the CARES Act, but were believed to be working “high-risk” jobs. However, In the case of Virginia Beach, City Council didn’t allocate the funding all at once. Waste Management employees didn’t complete trash pickup one day out of protest.

“If you see one or more localities where they rolled this out and say ‘We are going to deal with public safety workers first. And you folks are working in public works are working just as hard and you’re subject to risk and but we’ll figure you out later,’ that not only causes the perception of unfairness but a real moral issue,” Roberts said.

To prevent this from happening, Roberts is proposing going to city department heads in order to come up with a hazard pay plan. The city will be looking at the task the employee is completing not necessarily their title.

“Really addresses the people who are working with people either in large groups, face-to-face, every day, interacting with people that could be exposed to the virus,” Roberts said.

A proposal likely consisting of a combination of federal money and local one-time funds will be brought back to the council for their consideration. Roberts hopes payments can be made to employees sometime in October. It’s not known how much each employee could receive yet.

Still, Councilman Roger Fawcett said employees must be kept in the loop throughout the process.

“How are you going to define ‘essential’? Really who those people are, because certainly some people may feel left out in the process and we’ll have to stress out why … why we selected the way it was done so they understand.”

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