Iowa City City Council votes to pay temporary employees until May 16

After a 7-0 decision by the Iowa City City Council, the city of Iowa City will continue to pay temporary city employees through May 16, giving them time to file for unemployment benefits.


Hayden Froehlich

City Manager Geoff Fruin speaks at a City Council meeting over Zoom on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Fruin spoke about the proposed plan to build solar panels in Waterworks Prairie Park and the COVID-19 employee pay plan. (Hayden Froehlich/The Daily Iowan.)

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

The Iowa City City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve continued pay for city employees until May 16. After that date, the roughly 260 employees with temporary status would be furloughed unless the council approves an extension.

Iowa City City Manager Geoff Fruin provided the council with three potential options to determine how temporary employee wages will be directed. The city council approved a set-date pay plan, which will continue pay for temporary employees through May 16, the end of the pay period.

“[This option] will give employees certainty going forward,” Fruin said. “They will know exactly how long they will be compensated by the city, and they will be able to take that time to prepare, investigate, and possibly apply for unemployment benefits.”

According to the City Manager’s Office action plan, Iowa City took action to maximize the number of employees working from home and continue to provide benefits for full-time and part-time permanent and temporary employees, regardless if they can complete tasks at home. The plan said it would classify payment covering time spent at home with no available work under “COVID-19 pay.”

Fruin said around 260 temporary employees remain listed as temporary employees. The city projected a weekly cost of $25,000 to $30,000 from March 24 to April 12 to keep temporary employees on payroll, reaching a total of $86,000. This decision coincides with a decision from government officials extending social-distancing practices.

April 12 coincides with the date President Trump had initially hoped to reboot the economy and ease up on social distancing, though federal officials have extended those guidelines until April 30. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has extended closures of nonessential businesses, bars, restaurants, and other shops through that adjusted date.

RELATED: Iowa City City Council defers conversation on solar-energy project to next meeting

After the City Manager’s Office released the action plan April 2, the office was made aware that federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week would extend to state employees as well. This would add to their state unemployment benefits ranging from $87 to $591, Fruin said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Fruin said employees may choose to file for unemployment to receive higher payment, but not all employees will qualify, given the conditions that factor into unemployment benefits.

Another option Fruin presented to the council was to furlough some employees and give them an opportunity to receive unemployment, but he said at this time it was impossible to treat employees differently during this crisis.

Fruin said he would prefer to not furlough employees because those who have the option to remain on payroll will not receive unemployment benefits.

City Councilor Susan Mims supported the pay plan ending May 16 and said it would be to the benefit of employees to be able to apply for unemployment while still holding a job.

“This would give people a chance to know, ‘I have four more weeks of income, and I know when I will be eligible,’ ” Mims said.

Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said the council needed to move forward with a policy one way or another to address employee-payment methods, and that the May 16 plan provided an opportunity to keep employees on payroll and allow them a chance to explore other options.

“I think this will be setting the standard very high and we would be doing the right things for the community,” Salih said.

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