Eligible city employees are set to receive $400 COVID-19 vaccine bonuses and up to $2,500 in pandemic hazard pay after the Denver City Council approved the pair of proposals Monday.
While the hazard pay proposal passed unanimously without comment, the vaccine bonus split the council with an 8 to 3 vote, with two council members absent.
The controversial proposal will use $5 million from the city’s general fund to give $400 bonuses to city employees who complied with Denver’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate by the Sept. 30 deadline — including those who were granted religious or medical exemptions.
Exempt employees have the added requirement of not violating any exemption accommodations by Dec. 10, including masking, testing and physical distancing.
“I just don’t think that this is a good use of our $5 million,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who voted “no,” on Monday.
In previous meetings, Sawyer said the $5 million could build 5 miles of sidewalk, install seven stoplights, renovate four city playgrounds, complete the renovation of the downtown central library or staff foot and bike patrols and community policing in 10 neighborhoods for an entire year.
Other council members have raised issue with the concept of vaccine bonuses in general, saying they send the wrong message and reward something that should be expected.
“Hundreds of thousands of Denver residents have done their civic duty and gotten vaccinated because it’s the right thing to do and they’re not getting bonuses for that,” said Councilman Jolon Clark last week. “I’ve been told by many of my constituents that Denver rewarding city employees for doing the right thing feels, to them, like a slap in the face.”
Clark also criticized the $5 million being used as a reward, rather than incentivizing vaccinations or filling vacant city positions. No new employees or employees who weren’t already fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 will receive the bonus.
On Oct. 1, 98.7% of Denver’s 10,869 full-time employees were in compliance with the mandate, according to city data. This included 652 employees who received an exemption.
All full-time, part-time and on-call city employees are eligible for the bonus. The bonus proposal doesn’t apply to elected officials like the council members.
“I think this is an important way to reward our employees,” said Councilwoman Debbie Ortega last week. “I think folks need to be reminded that our employees took a number of furlough days in 2020. … They took a huge financial hit in 2020 at a time when many of them were having to work at the vaccine sites and at the testing sites and food distribution sites.”
The second proposal will use $16.6 million in federal funds to provide premium and hazard pay for career services and uniform city employees who worked in high-risk positions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eligible employees must have worked between March and December 2020, been required to perform the eligible work and spent more than 50% of their work time having in-person interactions and/or handling items handled by others.
Eligible employees will receive up to $250 for each month they met the eligibility requirements, which is a maximum of $2,500 per employee over the 10-month period. The payments will be funded by $8.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and $7.8 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Chief Financial Officer Brendan Hanlon said he estimates 4,273 career services employees and 3,170 uniform employees will be eligible for the premium and hazard pay.
Vaccinated city employees are expected to receive the $400 bonus on Nov. 26 and eligible exempt employees will receive it on Dec. 23. The hazard pay will be distributed on Nov. 19.