CHICOPEE — After approving retroactive pandemic bonuses for police and fire departments, the city and school department are gaining ground in favor of retention allowances for employees.
Mayor John Vieau said employee bonuses have remained a central focus for him over the past year. “I wanted to find a way to recognize the hard work of all of our employees,” Vieau told Reminder Publishing.
Vieau and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) committee considered using funds to top up the bonuses, but the mayor ultimately felt ARPA’s parameters were too restrictive to give employees proper recognition. ARPA funds can only be allocated to workers directly impacted by the pandemic, which would exclude some city employees.
“Essential worker pay guidelines [under ARPA consideration] didn’t seem fair,” Vieau said.
Retention allowances would award up to $3,000 to city employees, according to Vieau. Employees who worked throughout 2020 would receive $2,000 and earn an additional $1,000 for working throughout 2021. Employees who worked one of the years would receive a bonus for that specific year, while Part-time employees would receive half the bonus for each year, according to Vieau.
Speaking of retention allowances, Vieau reflected on the sacrifice city employees have made throughout the pandemic. “Chicopee is a very resilient city, everyone has made sacrifices throughout the pandemic,” Vieau said.
Examples the mayor acknowledged include skeletal sanitation teams – who were working on a bi-weekly schedule to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 of all staff – and the redirection of staff by the Council on Aging to take-out food offerings for the senior community at the RiverMills Centre. Vieau also applauded the efforts of the Chicopee Public Library, which offered take-out books and Zoom activities to educate all audiences throughout the pandemic.
The mayor said talks on city employee allowances were still ongoing, with his proposal still needing approval by city council before being passed.
For the school department, Vieau said Superintendent Lynn Clark approved retention bonuses that follow a payment structure similar to the plan proposed by the city. The bonuses will be funded by the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and will award up to $3,500 to all school district staff, according to Vieau.
Whether it’s city or school employees, the mayor stressed the importance of recognizing their efforts during a difficult time. “The pandemic has challenged us all in unexpected ways…the stipends have been well-deserved,” Vieau said.