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Some Pima County workers to get higher pay during COVID-19 pandemic

Some Pima County workers to get higher pay during COVID-19 pandemic

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series

Temporary COVID-19 premium pay to some essential Pima County employees who have unavoidable contact with the public, putting them at greater risk for developing coronavirus, has been approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Certain county employees will get $2 more per hour. That includes positions like deputies, corrections officers, animal care officers, medical service posts and front-line clerk positions with direct contact with the public.

“This is a proposal to pay any employee that is still considered essential and required to provide a public service where they do not have an opportunity to use social distancing or have adequate PPE,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

The pay will go into effect on April 12 and is likely to stay in place through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. It was not immediately disclosed how much the pay increase will cost the county.

Supervisor Ally Miller was the only board member to reject the proposal Thursday and expressed concern that many front-line workers, such as grocery store and medical employees, are not receiving special pay and that many people are out of work altogether.

“The premium pay troubles me because of the private-sector folks who are out of work. Their paychecks ended March 19 at 8 p.m,” she said. “They’re getting nothing, and I think this sends a really bad message to the community.”

In support of the proposal, Pima County Sherriff Mark Napier said that deputies and corrections officers are facing unique hazards and the job prevents effective social distancing.

“I became a law enforcement officer more than three decades ago, and I always accepted the fact that I could be shot in the line of duty and I could lose my life,” he said. “I did not accept the fact that that bullet could come home and harm my family. And that’s what our deputies and corrections officers are facing right now is a hazard that’s invisible.”

In addition to the premium pay plan, the board also voted to approve a COVID-19 furlough policy for employees who exhaust their paid time off.

Because of COVID-19, there are county employees who are unable to attend work and who are also unable to telecommute. As a result, some have been placed on leave. According to Huckelberry, as the pandemic drags on, they may have employees who will have exhausted all of their board-approved pandemic leave and federal leave, in addition to their own earned vacation and sick time.

“When an employee exhausts all possible leave banks, and is unable to return to work and/or unwilling to take a temporary assignment when available, the employee shall be placed on COVID-19 furlough,” said Huckelberry in an April 8 memo. “This action is necessary and vital to ensure that employees can file for unemployment and continue to receive money during this period of time.”

Being on furlough will allow county employees to apply for unemployment and will also ensure that they are able to come back to work without delay after the state shutdown is lifted. They will remain a county employee throughout their furlough.

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

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