'Blue Flu' absences due to sickness not demonstration - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

'Blue Flu' absences due to sickness not demonstration, MPA president says

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At its peak, Memphis Police Department's "Blue Flu" epidemic reached 557 absences Tuesday. By Thursday morning, those numbers are down to 499. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) At its peak, Memphis Police Department's "Blue Flu" epidemic reached 557 absences Tuesday. By Thursday morning, those numbers are down to 499. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
As the a silent demonstration called the "Blue Flu" continues, one person is coming to the officers' defense, saying they were sick and not participating in a protest. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) As the a silent demonstration called the "Blue Flu" continues, one person is coming to the officers' defense, saying they were sick and not participating in a protest. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC) - As the silent demonstration called the "Blue Flu" continues, one person is coming to the officers' defense, saying they were sick and not participating in a protest.

At its peak, Memphis Police Department's "Blue Flu" epidemic reached 557 absences Tuesday. By Thursday morning, those numbers are down to 499.

While many believe "Blue Flu" and "Red Rash," which is MFD's demonstration, are a unified stand against health care benefits and pension cuts, Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams says some of these employees are sick.

"People are having to go see psychiatrists because they're just stressed out," he said.

Williams says police officers and firemen do not get social security, so taking away insurance and pensions makes this a catastrophic decision on behalf of city leaders. Leaders say the cuts were their only alternative to taxing Memphians.

"I've been saying that if we don't hurry up ... Do something, I was afraid that somebody was going to snap. I'm surprised no one has snapped already," Williams said.

According to Williams, many of these men and women in blue suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, high blood pressure, and heart conditions.

"What you're telling them now is if you go out here, and fight, or you get shot, or you run into a burning building, we're not going to pay your insurance. What compels them to want to run into that burning building or active shooting situation?" Williams asked.

Williams believes the city has other alternatives that could be put on the table, and the huge showing of community support speaks to the fact that citizens are ready to do what they can to help turn this around.

"Everybody says we don't want to tax the citizens, but you're talking about six hundred thousand people that can share the burden as opposed to 10,000," Williams said.

Despite some officers and firefighters returning to work, some are concerned it is not fast enough. Some Memphians are willing to do whatever it takes to end the "Blue Flu," even if it means paying higher taxes.

"I would not mind paying more in taxes in order to let them maintain the benefits that they have, and I would be glad to do it," said Shelby County Schools teacher Vonnie Tillman.

Tillman says helping to share the burden for the city employees who keep her family safe is a no brainier. She says Memphis city leaders' decision to cut employees and retirees health care benefits has thrust citizens in the middle of this fight.

"The job they have is already very sacrificial," she said. "They don't really get enough salary in order to support them, and their families, and what they're doing and health care is a very important part of the package."

Tillman's husband Curtis agrees.

"If it's necessary to increase taxes, let us be willing to increase taxes. I'd also like to be sure they're handling the tax dollars that we are already paying in a responsible way," he said.

Williams said that he hopes the issue of taxation will be put back on the table as an alternative.

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