Clayton city employees could receive COVID hero pay

CLAYTON — They may make up a tiny work force compared to most cities, but this town’s 23 employees performed their jobs so heroically during the height of the pandemic that each may get a $10,000 bonus — from the police officers who continued to patrol streets to the city hall civilians who did their paperwork from home.

While the actual amount has not been finalized, the City Council on Tuesday agreed $10,000 sounds about right and directed staff officials to take some of the $1.45 million that Clayton is getting from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to dole out the “hero pay” bonuses.

Under the rescue plan, federal money is distributed to local governments with the intention of helping them as well as businesses, nonprofits and others compensate for financial losses inflicted by COVID-19 and related health orders .

The Clayton city employees who could get paid the one-time bonuses are nine police officers and sergeants, six maintenance workers and eight administrative staff members. City Manager Reina Schwartz would be the only one to not get the bonus.

Although a staff memo notes that five of the eligible employees began working for the city after March 2021 while the 18 others were part of the “earliest and most challenging COVID responses,” the council indicated all deserve the extra money because the pandemic is still in full force as mutations such as the delta and omicron variants sustain the coronavirus.

“This variant is running rampant the way things are,” Councilman Carl Wolfe said about the omicron variant. “Our heroes are still there… when do we ever get federal funds to help support our people?”

The Clayton City Council discuss hero pay for the city’s employees during a virtual meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2021. (Screenshot) 

Local governments across the country have ordered some companies to pay extra wages to certain front-line workers during the pandemic. Last year, for example, Santa Clara County began requiring grocery stores to pay their workers $5 an hour on top of their regular wages and some cities including Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley and Concord soon followed suit.

But for the most part, local governments have shied away from giving their own employees similar pay bumps. Santa Clara County bucked that trend in October when the Board of Supervisors decided to give hero pay bonuses to approximately 22,000 employees, also with money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Full-time employees got $2,500 and part-timers received a pro-rated cut of that amount.

The board’s decision caught some public criticism, including among those county employees who felt they deserved the money for working on the front lines and risking their health while other colleagues stayed home to work. Supervisor Otto Lee abstained from voting, calling the $2,500 bonuses “overly generous.”

Earlier this week, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority reached a tentative contract agreement with its largest union — which represents bus drivers, mechanics, light-rail operators and other essential workers — that included a one-time appreciation bonus of $3,500.

In Clayton, council discussion about hero pay stemmed from a letter sent by the police union.

Rich Enea, president of the Clayton Police Officers Association, pointed out in the letter that police officers risk their lives on the front lines and one even contracted COVID-19 last year.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, every police officer stayed the course and continued to come to work to protect this wonderful city,” Enea wrote. “While other city employees were able to work from home, our police officers did not have that choice.”

Assistant City Manager Laura Hoffmeister told this news organization that while administrative employees did work remotely during the early part of the pandemic, most were reporting to the city offices in small groups within a few months.

And all employees became fully vaccinated in the fall upon a requirement by the city, except for one who was granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons, Schwartz said.

After the omicron variant began surging late last month, Schwartz additionally told employees they must receive a booster shot by Feb. 1 if it’s been more than six months since their last dose.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Deborah Espina criticized the city for its willingness to give well-paid police officers big bonuses while she, an essential worker, did not qualify for $1,500 in cash assistance from the city because her income exceeded a $47,950 limit. She did not say what her job is.

“Judging from the traffic that I am exposed to as I leave for work every day, quite a lot of us are out there,” Espina said. “We have been since the first two weeks of the pandemic, we’re public-facing. .. It feels a little insulting we’re excluded from this one tranche and we have to watch these other people who make a tremendous amount of money get a $10,000 bonus.”

The city says it has set aside money for businesses and individuals who can prove they lost money because of the pandemic. But council members said they were surprised that so few of them actually applied for the money — less than $200,000 so far.

“We heard so much from everyone that they wanted these funds, and now no one’s taking them,” Wolfe said.

Councilman Jeff Wan said the city should do more outreach so people know there are plenty of relief funds available.

” ‘Please sign up, because we want to give you money’ is a pretty good pitch. I don’t know if you need much more than that,” Wan said.

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