Memphis proposes hazard pay for front-line city employees; Shelby County Health Department hiring

Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 6:42 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Monday night, Shelby County Commissioners cleared the use of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding to hire for 141 new positions at the Shelby County Health Department.

The jobs posted Tuesday morning.

“The positions are only going to be posted for a week, so time is of the essence,” said Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department.

Officials said they will start interviewing for the 141 jobs in the middle part of next week. Roughly 60 of the roles are for contact tracers, and the postings include opportunities for lab personnel, nurses and other leadership positions.

Haushalter said the positions are budgeted through the end of the year, and anyone from any background is encouraged to apply. That includes recent college graduates and those who speak multiple languages.

“This is a place to learn public health because it is an outbreak situation. So you’re learning everything from public health law all the way to investigations,” said Haushalter.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland laid out a proposal Tuesday morning to council members for how the city should spend its $113 million in federal funding. Strickland said the city will kick in $8.7 million of the city’s federal CARES Act funding for additional contact tracing at the health department.

An initial investment of $2.7 million of that was approved immediately by council members Tuesday, to fund the expansion of the Shelby County Health Department. Strickland said the city also expected to spend $12 million on testing.

Strickland said the relief funds will be used to reimburse the City for salaries, including his, of officials who have worked around the clock during the pandemic. They are also paying back funds spent to purchase PPE, disinfecting supplies and IT services, along with computers acquired to equip employees to work from home.

“We’re taking CARES Act money and reimbursing ourselves,” said the mayor.

Strickland is also proposing a hazard pay increase for roughly 5,400 city employees for the rest of the year, an average pay hike of 3.7 percent. The hike would be handed out in two tiers.

The first is for those employees who are on the front line, like police, fire, solid waste and others. The second tier includes other essential jobs like dispatchers, library workers and parks employees. The new hazard pay program would go into effect until the end of 2020. Currently, only 685 city employees are receiving hazard pay.

Strickland said the city also wants to start a vacation buyback program to reimburse employees for foregone vacation time that had to be canceled. The city placed a vacation moratorium in place for all employees in March. It is expected to be lifted May 31.

Memphis City Council members must approve how the federal relief funds will be spent.

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