About a quarter of the police officers in Memphis have called in sick in an apparent protest over benefit cuts.
As of Tuesday morning, 552 officers were out sick, out of a total force of 2,218, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The "blue flu" numbers have been increasing rapidly in recent days.
Last month, the Memphis City Council passed a budget that increased employee health insurance premiums by 24 percent, as of October. The package also took away some health care subsidies for retirees over the age of 65.
The changes will affect all city employees, but police officers and firefighters have been the most vocal in protesting. So far, though, members of the police force are alone in staging a de facto work stoppage.
City officials acknowledge it's been tough to staff all shifts and have turned to the Shelby County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office for help patrolling Beale Street and other parts of town.
"It's going to cost us greatly in terms of overtime," Memphis Mayor AC Wharton Jr. said at a news conference Sunday.
The Memphis police department has canceled regularly scheduled leave days for those officers still working. Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said Monday he'll expect to see doctors' notes from those officers who have been out, and said his administration will deal with them on a case-by-case basis.
"We have the authority to discipline anyone found to be in violation of the city's policy, up to and including termination," Mayor Wharton said in a statement. "Thankfully, public safety has not been compromised at this point, and we intend to do whatever is necessary to keep it that way."
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