More than one-quarter of Memphis, Tennessee’s police force, around 550 officers, called in sick yesterday to protest the city’s reduction of their health care subsidies.
The “Blue Flu,” as it is being called, has been spreading since the end of June, after the City Council voted to eliminate the city’s 70 percent subsidy of police officers’ health insurance, along with an increase in premiums. These cuts, in addition to cuts to some retiree benefits, are attempts to redirect money to fix the city’s pension fund deficit.
Gov. Bill Haslam said that the state’s Highway Patrol has offered their help while the city’s police force is short staffed. “We have plans to dedicate a certain number of officers there from the Highway patrol,” said Haslam. “Obviously we can’t do that forever, but we do want to step in and help.”
Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr, who refused to call the officers’ action a strike, has said that the city’s public safety will not be compromised. But given that Tennessee sits atop the list of the most violent states in the country, and Memphis has the fifth highest violent crime rate among cities, it’s likely the city will notice the missing officers, and soon.
The mayor held a press conference yesterday, where he said, in regards to the city employees’ health care, “there will be coverage,” but was unable to give any specifics on how much that coverage will cost.
Watch the entire press conference below.