KXAN reports that the Austin city council has approved hazard pay for most city employees who had to work in offices during the COVID crisis. But that hazard pay specifically excludes first responders such as EMS, firefighters, and police officers.
All three have faced extremely long hours due both to the pandemic and the protests/riots that have occurred in the city since the beginning of June.
City employees said they were sent a memo Monday explaining who will be eligible for “COVID Enhancement Pay.”
Police, fire, and EMS associations said although they never asked for hazard pay, they were still disappointed to learn their members will not qualify for it.
“So Austin is the only city, that I know about, that is doing hazard pay and purposely excludes first responders. I don’t think I’ve seen any other city that is doing that. Most other places are doing hazard pay specifically for first responders, but Austin is excluding them,” said Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association.
Xie is an eight-year veteran and current captain in the city’s EMS.
Even before the COVID pandemic changed daily life, Xie and other EMS reported frequently being assaulted on the job.
The heads of the firefighters and police associations echoed Xie’s statement regarding hazard pay.
“You know, their argument is that we’re already paid well. Well, I think all city employees are paid pretty well. And to offer it to the civilian employees and not the first responders, it’s just disrespectful and a slap in the face of every first responder in the city,” said (Austin Police Association President Ken) Casaday.
The 1900-member Austin Police Department is about 180 officers down, is having 100 positions cut, and its next cadet class delayed as the city council and Mayor Steve Adler move to defund it despite crime that has risen in the city since the council allowed homeless camping in the summer of 2019.
Police officers report working 60 to 80 hour work weeks through the protests and dozens of officers have contracted the coronavirus. A source tells PJM that police resignations and retirements are continuing as demoralized officers leave the force for other positions and even other occupations.
EMS head Xie says its responders are working 50 COVID-related calls per day in the city.
“To say that somebody who has to go into their office is going to get hazard pay, but somebody who is literally working in the streets will not get hazard pay, has really hurt morale and just hurt the feelings of our medics that are taking care of people in the city and taking care of people that have COVID,” Xie said.
This mayor and city council are effectively gutting the city’s law enforcement capabilities while also demoralizing those who face the gravest risks to help the city’s residents.
Things in Austin are likely to go from bad to worse. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza won the Democratic primary runoff for county attorney on Tuesday. Garza is on board with defunding the police and tweeted this in regard to those arrested during the recent protests.
The protesters in Austin have defaced the state capitol, illegally blocked streets and surrounded vehicles, and attacked a black DPS officer — hurling racist insults at him — among other things. Arrests of some who cross the line from peaceful protest to crime have helped the police regain some measure of order in the city. Media in the city continue to report that the ongoing protests are about racial equality, but those peaceful protests ended weeks ago. The current protests include violent actions such as the attempt to storm Austin police headquarters.
Garza has also pledged to drop charges related to property along with other nonviolent crimes, the effect of which may be to declare open season for a range of criminals and crimes across all of Travis County.
Jose Garza, a former public defender, won the Democratic primary runoff for district attorney. He has pledged to take all police shootings to a grand jury regardless of the facts of the specific cases.
Police, therefore, may soon face greater probability of prosecution than criminals in the Democrat stronghold of Austin.