Detroit, Wayne County consider hazard pay for front-line workers amid pandemic

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city and Wayne County are contemplating hazard duty pay policies for some workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday pointed to a policy in Atlanta that's paying eligible employees an extra $500 a month on top of base pay, telling reporters "we're looking at it."

"What these police officers, firefighters, EMTs and bus drivers are doing in this crisis is nothing short of heroic," the mayor said during a news conference. "I asked our finance people; 'could we do something like that here,' and they are seriously looking at it. We're going to see if we can afford it and see if we can come to an agreement with union leadership."

Around the country, Duggan said, most cities are continuing to pay workers who have the virus and are under quarantine. Detroit, he said, is doing the same.

But the mayor also stressed the city has suffered a major blow, losing 20% of its revenue — or $600,000 a day — with the closure of the casinos.

"I don't ever want to be in a position again where this city gets taken over by somebody from the outside because we didn't manage our finances," Duggan said in reference to the financial oversight board that formerly had control over the city's budgeting as a component of its bankruptcy. "So I've got to figure out how to be responsible in light of a crushing loss of revenues." 

Wayne County also is making the same consideration, said Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who joined Duggan for Monday's briefing. 

"We're used to, in law enforcement, confronting dangers we can see. This is an enemy that we can't see," said Napoleon, adding Wayne County Executive Warren Evans "will do what he can to benefit the people who are putting themselves on the line every day."

Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Evans, said the executive and his senior leadership had a meeting Monday with union leaders and the sheriff's office about the possibility. Any plan would also be shared with the county commission, he said. 

"The county executive recognizes the unique circumstance that we're in and the work that our deputies and front-line essential employees are doing to continue to provide these important public services," Nowling said. "We need to make sure that their compensation reflects that."

Napoleon has multiple relatives suffering from the virus, including his brother, Highland Park Police Chief Hilton Napoleon, whom he said has been on a ventilator for more than three weeks. 

"Wear your mask," he urged. "If you feel good, you should thank God for that."

Duggan said Monday that dozens of quarantined Wayne County Sheriff Department workers will get rapid testing for the virus in the coming days after 83 cases have been confirmed in the department that's been fatal for two workers and one jail inmate. 

There are 154 Detroit Police Officers who have been diagnosed with the virus, Assistant Police Chief James White noted Monday. 

Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the city has exceeded 5,000 and the death toll is nearing 200, according to new data released Monday. 

Detroit's Health Department reported 5,032 cases of COVID-19 — an increase of 475 cases in a 24-hour span — and 196 total deaths. That's 29 more Detroit deaths than what the city logged on Sunday. 

On Sunday, the city's confirmed cases of COVID-19 had climbed by nearly 600 and the death toll increased by 38 from the day prior. 

Over the weekend, federal government officials warned the worst of the battle for the country is yet to come.

Testing for the virus has steadily increased at a regional testing site in Detroit at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds. Duggan said about 800 are being done weekly now and they expect it will ramp up next week. 

Duggan and White on Friday announced that the city was stepping up enforcement at city parks and through aerial and closed-circuit surveillance video to monitor whether crowds were continuing to congregate in violation of the state's stay home, stay safe order. 

White on Monday said the police department checked 792 locations, gave out 369 warnings and issued 74 citations for $1,000. They also broke up nine parties, including five large gatherings at barbecues.

The mayor said officials will also work to ensure that car washes, which are not considered essential, are not operating during the emergency. 

The risk of a citywide curfew or complete shutdown of city parks was raised on Friday. But officials on Monday reiterated those actions aren't warranted yet. 

"This shared sacrifice is tough," White said. "But we must engage in social distancing so we get back to some semblance of normalcy as the summer approaches."

Duggan also unveiled a new effort that will aid the business community and feed front-line workers. The program, called Feed the Front Lines, he said, will call for the city to purchase 2,500 meals per week from businesses impacted by the crisis and provide them to first responders. 

"We have got to keep our businesses afloat through this," Duggan said. "I want Detroit to come out of this in as strong a way as possible."