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VOL. 129 | NO. 132 | Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wharton Says City Won’t ‘Split Hairs’ on Blue Flu

By Bill Dries

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Margaret Bruch, wife of a Memphis firefighter retiring next year, questions Mayor A C Wharton Jr. during a Tuesday, July 8, press conference.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said Tuesday, July 8, the city will “approach it accordingly” when it comes to the more than 550 Memphis Police officers who have called in sick in the last week.

“If it’s not legal under the ordinances, under state law, I’m not going to be able to split any hairs about whether this is a strike or whether it’s this or that,” Wharton said. “And we are going to approach it accordingly.”

The use of the word strike to possibly describe the sick-out is new rhetorical ground by the administration, and it comes with a much stricter and specific interpretation of city policies for using sick leave.

The administration sent a memo Tuesday to all city employees from Chief Administrative Officer George Little saying given the sick-out, “the administration must insist on strict adherence to the city’s policy and procedure on sick leave benefits.”

That strict adherence includes all employees being required to call in sick with supervisors on a daily basis until they have “proper medical documentation” noting a block of time the employee will be out. The daily requests have to be made two hours prior to the start of their shift.

An employee has to tell his or her boss “with particularity the particular job duties and responsibilities the employee is unable to perform.”

The same specification has to be made in the doctor’s note required for being out three consecutive days or more. Employees out sick have to tell their manager where they are recovering, and the city may check that location in person or by telephone.

Wharton’s City Hall press conference drew a crowd of several dozen protestors, many of them firefighters and police officers who earlier in the day had been picketing the Falls Building, home to the Greater Memphis Chamber.

The chamber has backed the Wharton administration’s changes to city employee health insurance and pension benefits.

Wharton spent a good part of the Tuesday press conference justifying the cuts in health care benefits for current city employees and retirees as well as proposed pension changes.

“We did not have any good choices whatsoever,” Wharton said at the outset. “It’s not something I or the council went looking for.”

Wharton was jeered several times and answered questions and comments from three of the protestors in the Hall of Mayors. He also said no city employee or retiree will be left without insurance coverage in the changes that take effect Jan. 1, a point that drew the most catcalls from the crowd.

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