by James Coleman —
The Shelby County Commission Monday (Jan. 10) unanimously approved pay for county corrections division employees, mainly guards.
The 13-0 approval vote solidified a belief among many county officials that the wage hike was long overdue and ends a long-running debate over whether it was fair to pay deputy jailers more than the correction division’s guards.
Also Monday, commissioners were briefed by Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor on the coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, Taylor reported that 50 percent of Shelby County had been fully vaccinated.
Regarding the pay hike, commission Chair Willie Brooks, the resolution’s sponsor, said, “I am glad that we found a way to work with all stakeholders to correct this pay disparity and raise the pay of our corrections officers. These individuals work tough jobs and long hours to keep our community safe.”
More than 200 corrections employees, mainly guards, will see a jump in compensation of up to 20 percent.
Along with the commission, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris supported the increase. It was co-sponsored by commissioners Michael Whaley, Reginald Milton, Mark Billingsley, Van Turner Jr., Tami Sawyer and Mickell Lowery.
“Our Division of Corrections members will be happy to receive this increase, which offsets a pay gap that has existed for 20 years. They deserve it and they have earned it. This substantial raise shows that their hard work has not gone unnoticed by Mayor Harris’ administration,” said AFSCME Executive Director Gail Tyree, who represents the employees.
The newest set of raises is part of an overall effort by the mayor and the commission to boost employee retention and recruitment.
The raises also reflect the low-end pay scale of some Shelby County’s employees and when compared to counterparts in similar-sized counties across the state and nation.
As a result, concerns have grown about recruiting quality candidates for employment or public office.
“We are pleased to announce this substantial increase in salary for over 200 of our public safety employees. When our administration learned of the decades-long pay disparity, we went to work to do something about increasing our officers’ pay,” said Harris in a statement.
“This raise will address a significant pay disparity, help us recruit and retain officers, and provide for the safety and welfare of our community.”
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor, the Health Department director, said the 50 percent vaccination rate is “something to celebrate, but also something to keep in mind when we talk about the level of cases in the community right now.
“Remember that while 50 percent of our community is vaccinated, another 50 percent has either just initiated their series (of vaccinations) or just has not received a vaccination at all.”
Like the rest of the nation, cases in Shelby County have surged as the highly infectious Omicron variant has taken hold.
However, unlike previous strains of the COVID-19, it appears to be less deadly.