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Bridgeport city workers say the city owes them a share of federal pandemic dollars

Bridgeport city workers stand in front of City Hall to demand 'hero pay'.
Cassandra Basler / Connecticut Public
Members of unions representing Bridgeport workers who serve public works, safety and education rallied at City Hall.

Unionized Bridgeport city employees demanded that Mayor Joe Ganim and the city council give “hero pay” to front-line workers during the pandemic, as vaccination rates among city employees lag behind the state average.

Bridgeport officials say about 60% of public employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with over 80% of state employees. A spokesperson for Ganim’s office confirmed that about 60% of employees have reported they are vaccinated. But that number is in flux because not all employees have reported and there’s also fluctuating seasonal staff, the spokesperson said.

David Dobbs, president of the union representing Bridgeport firefighters, says city commitments to COVID-19 hazard pay should not be tied to vaccine compliance.

“Those are two separate issues,” Dobbs said. “I can’t speak for every union here, but I know our numbers in the fire department. We’re approaching 80% vaccinated.” 

Dobbs spoke outside Bridgeport City Hall on Wednesday alongside union leaders representing about 1,300 police, sanitation and maintenance workers, school paraprofessionals and school board employees. Union leaders said the workers who left their homes to keep the city clean, safe and educated deserve a portion of the federal dollars awarded to help the city respond to the pandemic.

They demanded face time with the mayor, or one of his aides, to have a say in how the city spends millions in federal pandemic relief dollars.

“I support the concept of premium pay and appreciate all employee contributions,” Ganim said in a statement to CT Public, noting that the labor relations and chief administration offices are reviewing the request. “Any details related to additional income need to be in compliance with the Act and federal regulations once they are finalized.”

“We have a budget for them,” said Ernie Newton, a member of Bridgeport’s city council and committees on budget and contracts. “I’m not sure why it’s not getting paid out.”

Cassandra Basler oversees Connecticut Public’s flagship daily news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and coordinates breaking news coverage on the air, online and in your morning email inbox. Her reporting has aired nationally on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now.

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