Auburn Police Detective Nick Gagnon, right, speaks to the City Council on Monday regarding requests for hazard pay the union has made to city administration. Andrew Rice/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The unions representing Auburn’s public safety personnel are asking the city for hazard pay as officials prioritize COVID-19 relief funds.

Union officials representing the police and fire departments spoke to the City Council during a public comment session Monday, requesting hazard pay for working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020.

Auburn Police Detective Nick Gagnon, president of the local union that represents the patrol and detectives unit, said previous requests to city administration have been met with resistance, and its most recent request was ignored.

After both union officials spoke for several minutes, Mayor Jason Levesque asked whether there were any other city departments there to request hazard pay, and urged the union representatives to reach out to the local legislative delegation to push for the use of state funds.

“Is there anyone from Public Works, the Auburn Teachers Association, the librarians, anybody else that wants to speak on this topic?” he asked. “Anyone from Hannaford or any other business in Auburn?”

Levesque told the union representatives to submit proposals to his recently established ad hoc committee on American Rescue Plan Act funds, which is tasked with prioritizing more than $13 million Auburn received from the federal bill.

He said Maine should have issued a blanket bonus for public safety personnel like neighboring New Hampshire, but said it has instead created “incestuous competition of one-upmanship” across municipalities and the county level.

“The state is sitting on ARPA money that could be used to level the playing field across the state,” he said.

Gagnon said early in the pandemic, he wrote city administration to request hazard pay and was told officials would monitor other agencies in the state. He said within days, Portland began paying public safety personnel $2 an hour in hazard pay. When he went back to administration, he was told the city would monitor what similar-sized agencies are doing.

He said when Bangor began offering the same $2 an hour bonus, he didn’t receive a response from Auburn Hall. Since then, several other public safety agencies have used federal relief funds for hazard pay bonuses, including Androscoggin County.

In Lewiston, administration opted earlier this year to approve a one-time hazard bonus for police and fire personnel, the equivalent of four days pay.

In October, employees in the Turner Rescue Department were given a 7% pay raise “in recognition of COVID (and the) extra efforts” of the staff.

Assistant City Manager Brian Wood said Tuesday that the Auburn fire union requested a meeting with staff in August, but that the City Manager’s office “has not received a formal or informal request from either of the city’s police unions.”

“To date no official written proposals have been submitted to the City Manager’s Office, however the City is always open to meeting with all unions and stands firmly committed to support all city employees in their quest to provide premier service to all residents, businesses and visitors,” he said.

Gagnon said Monday that during the height of the pandemic, while the majority of Auburn staff were working from home, and Auburn officials were debating mask mandates and school guidance, officers and firefighters continued to work as if nothing had changed.

Gagnon said he contracted COVID-19 after being exposed at work.

“I was lucky enough to get through it,” he said. “But more than 700 officers across the country have not been so lucky,” adding that COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for American police officers in 2020.

Auburn Fire Capt. Chris Moretto, president of the local International Association of Fire Fighters, said the Auburn Fire Department was one of the only departments that “never altered their schedule, worked from home or veered off the path of serving and protecting the community.”

He requested that the department be included in discussions to use Auburn’s allotment of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“I ask the City Council to join other cities and towns in the state and in the country that have responded to this pandemic by rewarding its first responders for their commitment during this time,” he said.

Levesque urged the unions to submit proposals as soon as possible, which will be worked into the committee’s “prioritization matrix.”

The city has so far set aside American Rescue Plan Act funds for a $250,000 rebate program to incentivize energy efficient home improvements, and officials have discussed using the relief funding to pay for a $2 million overhaul of Festival Plaza.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: