Amid furloughs and layoffs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Norfolk’s remaining employees will nearly all get bonuses for continuing to work through the crisis.
Except for a handful, the city’s rank-and-file employees will get either hazard pay or what city officials are calling “thank you pay.”
The hazard pay program has been under discussion by officials and city council for several weeks, part of a larger spending plan for $26 million in federal money the city received to help it grapple with impacts of COVID-19.
The city will spend roughly $3.8 million on hazard pay for 1,900 employees who have been working in conditions where they are exposed to dangerous circumstances related to the virus or can’t properly socially distance while on the job.
That includes front-line first responders like police and fire, as well as employees such as trash collectors and wastewater management workers.
Each full-time employee eligible for hazard pay will get a $2,000 bonus check in August — basically, $500 for every month they’ve spent working while the pandemic continues to wrack the nation. Part-timers and those who have joined the city in the last few months will get pro-rated bonuses.
The city is also planning on spending about $375,000 as a “thank you” for just about every other employee. About 1,500 full-time employees will each get $250 in so-called “thank you pay.”
City budget director Greg Patricks said the bonus is meant to be a recognition of city staff who have done their best to keep the gears of city government turning.
“There is no more important part of our service delivery than the employees that deliver that service,” Patrick said.
The “thank you pay” bonus was announced for the first time at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, and was met with little discussion from the council.
Mayor Kenny Alexander said he’s supportive of the “thank you” bonuses.
“People who remain, we’re asking them to do more and this is a way to say thank you,” Alexander said Friday. “We’ve asked people to take on more responsibility as we’ve streamlined … but the work of the city continues.”
The bulk of city employees will get one bonus or the other, but not all.
Part-timers won’t qualify for “thank you” pay. Neither will the 91 city employees currently on furlough due to facility closures related to COVID-19. The city laid off 470 part-time employees this year for the same reason.
Higher-ups, from the city manager to department heads, won’t be eligible for either bonus.
Councilwoman Courtney Doyle encouraged city staff to think about a way to keep hazard pay going for those who continue to work in unsafe conditions. Megan Erwin, who is overseeing the coronavirus stimulus for the city, said there’s no plan to continue either bonus going forward, since they’re based on a one-time payment from the federal government.
However, the state is still sitting on some of that federal money, so millions more could be freed up that could be used to bolster or extend these programs or others, Patrick said.