Memphis police stage ‘sick-out’ over healthcare benefits cut

(CNN) — Police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, are sick — sick of having their healthcare benefits cut.

Nearly a quarter of the city’s 2,200-member police force called in sick on Monday. That’s 522 officers, according to Police Director Toney Armstrong.

“We’re in a crisis mode,” he said. “We’re going to do absolutely everything we have to do to make sure that public safety isn’t compromised.”

Last month, the city council voted to eliminate the city’s 70% subsidy of health insurance premiums for members of the force. Premiums were also increased, apparently prompting an onset of the “Blue Flu” since June 30.

That’s when the number of officers out sick began to escalate.

“The police association has not sanctioned nor orchestrated a Blue Flu,” said Michael Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association. “I would characterize it as officers that are stressed out, and they are very concerned about their futures.”

The public finds itself caught in the middle.

“We’re in a Catch-22 as citizens because, yes, we want the protection, we need the protection, we deserve the protection, but they need their rights protected, too,” Memphis resident Harriet Stanton told CNN affiliate WMC-TV.

Armstrong said it’s not hard to figure out why officers are upset. The changes are hitting them in the pocketbook.

“I certainly understand their level of disappointment and their level of hurt,” he said, stopping short of calling recent developments a strike.

“You have to respect the process, and certainly we have a certain percentage of our force that has chosen to take another action.”

For the officers who remain on the job, there are no vacation or off days. Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies are supplementing the force. Tennessee Highway Patrol officers may pitch in too, if needed, Armstrong said.

One Memphis resident called for disciplinary action.

“I think they should be fired because it’s a responsibility for us that we have to be protected,” Helen Fulp said.

Yet, there was sympathy from others.

“Let’s start up on top. Let’s cut the mayor’s salary. Let’s cut some of his assistant’s salaries, then let’s cut from some of those making these decisions,” said Calvin Harris. “Then, we see where we need to go from there.”

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1 Comment

  • Teresa

    The City of Memphis has continually tried to balance their budget and remedy their poor choices in spending at the expense of our police officers. Not only have our officers not gotten a raise in years, they took a mandatory 4.6% pay cut! I haven’t noticed the Mayor or the City Council offering to take a pay cut to help out with balancing the budget. The bottom line is that the City is reneging on promises that were made to these officers when they were hired – promises that they have relied on when planning their financial futures. There is a time when you just have to say “enough is enough” and take measures to protect your own families! These officers want to serve and protect the citizens of Memphis, however, they also have a duty to their own families first. They deserve to be treated with respect for putting their lives on the line every day – instead of continually being forced to endure pay cuts and benefit reductions that no other sane person would put up with quietly. If the public wants protection, perhaps they should be writing the Mayor and their Council members and telling them to protect them. The future of our police officers certainly doesn’t concern the City officials, and I doubt that the safety of the citizens of Memphis truly concerns them either. All they are seem to be concerned with is their own pocketbooks and getting votes.

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