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Norfolk city employees upset over 'chronic low pay' and reported high turnover

A group of Norfolk city employees held a rally Wednesday afternoon. They want to unionize.

NORFOLK, Va. — There is trouble brewing in Norfolk. City employees there say they’re overworked and underpaid.

Ultimately, city workers said they want to change and they want to unionize. A group of workers held a rally in Norfolk to call attention to what they say are long-standing issues. 

Workers held signs and chanted: "Organize to bargain!" 

They’re calling it an “employee crisis.”  

They said Norfolk city leaders have a problem with keeping people on the payroll because of high turnover.  

Calvin Thompson, an equipment operator with the city’s Division of Public Works said a lot of full-time workers don’t make enough money and must work a second job to make ends meet.  

“A number of us, including myself, have to work two even three jobs and have a side hustle just to make sure we bring enough money home to feed our family, take care of our rent," he said. 

“I’ve been working for the city of Norfolk for the last six years of my life and I’ve seen nothing change. I’ve nothing get better. Actually, I’ve seen it get worse.”

According to a statement released by the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME): Norfolk city employee turnover is a "persistent problem" exacerbated by pandemic-related furloughs and layoffs, and driven by low pay. 

RELATED: 57 Norfolk city employees to lose jobs because of budget shortfall created by coronavirus pandemic

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the City of Norfolk provided a statement on behalf of city leaders.

The statement said: "City leadership has always been willing to work with city employees and understand their concerns and strives to create a healthy work environment."

"Virginia’s new collective bargaining law provides several options for the City Manager to consider, and he "is currently reviewing these and looks forward to bringing his recommendation to Council" when they return from recess," the statement said.

The statement also noted: "Yesterday, Engaging Local Government Leaders recognized the City of Norfolk as one of the top local governments in the country to work for specifically for work-life balance and benefits."  

Norfolk Engineer Tech Jennifer Webb also voiced money issues at the rally. 

“I currently hold down a full-time job with the city of Norfolk and have two side businesses," she said. "With that being said, I am still not able to afford the city insurance plan. I must rely on Medicaid to make sure that my kids have their asthma medication.” 

The city council had approved a raise for city workers, earlier this year.

But AFSCME statement reads: although the recent 3% raise is welcome, it doesn’t compensate for “years of chronic low pay.”

Thompson said, “Work out here in the heat, we repair potholes; we do utility cuts, we repair sidewalks. For the amount of work that we do, the amount of money that we make is not equivalent to what we do.”

Author's Note: The video below is on file from Dec. 7, 2020.