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    Tuesday, August 16, 2022

    Norwich employee union seeks 'hero' pay for front-line city workers during pandemic

    Norwich — City Hall employees urged city leaders Wednesday to dedicate a portion of the city’s $14 million American Rescue Plan Act grant to city workers for “hero” pay bonuses to recognize their efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Leaders of AFSCME Local 2422, the union representing City Hall employees, urged elected leaders at Wednesday’s City Council informational meeting and workshop at the Rose City Senior Center, held to allow public input on several proposed spending items using ARP grant money. More than a dozen workers wearing green AFSCME shirts applauded the union leaders after each statement.

    Local 2422 President Kate Milde and Vice President Angela Fuller addressed the council. Milde said several municipalities, including New London, already have acted on pandemic premium pay and she asked Norwich to “step up” too. Milde is program coordinator and Juvenile Review Board case manager for Norwich Youth and Family Services.

    “You cannot and must not forget your loyal city employees who kept our city stitched together during and after the pandemic,” Milde said. “We are the people doing the work that’s been underfunded, and we have some thoughts on the best use of the remaining ARPA monies.”

    Milde cited several examples of work done by union members during the pandemic, including equipping schoolchildren with Chromebook computers and internet access for online learning, creating email accounts and registering hundreds of senior citizens for COVID-19 vaccines and processing all police reports.

    Milde said she served more than 700 Norwich youth this year, teaching coping skills or conducting “intensive case management.”

    Fuller, a records clerk in the city clerk’s office, reminded aldermen that the city clerk’s office did not close throughout the pandemic, providing in-person services — “putting ourselves and our families at risk,” she said — such as birth and death certificates, property transactions and dog licenses. The city clerk’s office staff needed to learn new rules and processes when city meetings shifted online.

    Thousands more absentee ballots were filed during pandemic elections, adding more work to the city clerk’s office, Fuller said.

    Fuller said hazard pay, or hero pay, should be given to those workers who remained on the front lines and should not require negotiations with the unions.

    “There should be no need to negotiate over doing the right thing for the people who served our city and kept it running during the pandemic,” Fuller said. “This is not something to collectively bargain. This is something you, our leaders, should do without hesitation.”

    Wednesday’s workshop was held to allow public comment on a list of proposed grant uses and to propose other ideas for COVID-19 response grants. About 35 residents attended the meeting, some urging improvements to heavily used sports fields and for the city to create a multi-use turf sports field.

    The items on the list included $1.3 million to fund several new employee positions: a records clerk, three police officers, a zoning and blight enforcement official, fire inspector, auto equipment mechanic and an 18-month human services manager position to handle COVID-19 recovery.

    Local businessman Robert Bell, a state legislative candidate, said all the positions listed are important, but he questioned using “temporary money for permanent positions,” potentially leading to a tax increase after the 18-month grant period.

    Another plan would use $150,000 in ARP funds to widen sidewalks and create public gathering space on lower Broadway and $50,000 for a study by the Yale Design Group for lower Broadway. Another $195,000 would install LED lights and upgrade the parking lot at the Armstrong Tennis Courts.

    Members of the Norwich Golf Course Authority requested funding to replace a 1979 bridge between the ninth and 10th holes on the course. Replacement would cost about $200,000, member Robert Malouf said. About 200 golf carts cross the bridge each day. If funding is secured, the bridge would be shut down in November, with the work completed by spring.

    The council took no action Wednesday and still has to vote on the remaining funding.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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