Leaders of 'Blue Flu' protest unknown

The Associated PressJuly 11, 2014 

— No one has stepped forward as a leader of city police officers and firefighters who have called in sick to protest changes to their health insurance benefits, complicating efforts by Memphis officials to respond to the mass sickout.

That anonymity is making it difficult for the city to apply potential strategies to end the so-called "Blue Flu" action, such as going to court to seek an injunction or punishing the strikers, according to The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1wa5eGP).

Because there are no spokesmen for the absent safety workers, talking with the protesters is hard, said City Chief Administrative Officer George Little.

Little said he still doesn't know who's organizing the mass sickout.

"To the extent that this is spontaneous or decentralized, how do you negotiate with those individuals?" he said. "How do you speak to those individuals' concerns?"

Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said 441 officers were out sick on Friday morning, down from a high of 557 on Tuesday. The force has about 2,200 officers.

Little said he asked police and fire union leaders to urge their members to return to work.

He described their response: "First of all, that this was not an organized action, that they could not compel their membership to do so. That they actually have been encouraging their members to work while they work this out through council."

Discussions about the work stoppage continued Thursday with a conference call involving city and labor leaders, according to City Council member Myron Lowery.

"The bottom line was the immediate concern of getting the firemen and policemen back to work," Lowery said.

Lowery and firefighters union president Thomas Malone both said the unions floated a new proposal, but neither would discuss what it included.

"We're waiting to hear back from the administration," Malone said. "We agreed we're not going to say what we have on the table until we can come out with a consensus that everyone can agree to."

Malone said he's not telling people to go back to work, since the number of absences in the fire department is so low that he assumes they're really sick.

"I'm just telling our people don't get caught up in this hysteria and if they're not sick, then go to work," he said.

The changes to the health insurance benefits are aimed at helping shore up the city's troubled pension program.

Cuts approved by the City Council have led to protests from city workers, including police and fire staff, who say they cannot afford the changes and feel betrayed by a city they have served and protected. City leaders say public safety has not been compromised due to the "Blue Flu."

Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service