MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Faced with major changes to their health insurance benefits, more than 500 Memphis police officers have called in sick for the second consecutive day.
They are protesting cuts aimed at helping buttress the city's troubled pension program, in a showdown that reflects wider struggles in cash-strapped urban centers across the country.
Cuts approved by the City Council last month have led to protests from city workers, including police, who say they cannot afford the changes and feel betrayed by a city they have served and protected.
City leaders have said public safety has not been compromised due to what's being called the "Blue Flu."
But Memphis is not alone in dealing with consequences of pension shortfalls. Cities like Baltimore and Chicago have made changes based on pension issues.
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UPDATE: MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam says the state is offering to dedicate Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to help Memphis deal with a rash of sick calls from police officers upset about cuts to their health care benefits.
Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said Tuesday the number of officers who are currently out sick has increased to 554. That represents about a quarter of the total force, which stands at about 2,200 officers.
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has said the sick calls are part of officers' protests of a City Council vote that reduces health care subsidies for city employees, including police.
Haslam tells The Associated Press that Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons has been in contact with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. about the situation.
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Public safety wives spent Monday making signs on the East End Grill patio, a business that supports the police officers and firefighters.
Tracy Culley, wife of Memphis Police Officer, "My children shouldn't to have to live through this. They just shouldn't. My husband was made a promise and they should keep it."
Almost all the men in Tracey Culley's family work for police and fire or are retired from public safety. She has a 10-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter.
"Right now, we try to protect it from them, until it becomes a reality."
Fran Triplett's husband joined the police force 21 years ago. They have a girl and a boy, ages five and 11.
Fran Tripplett, wife of Memphis Police Officer, "He was happy doing that knowing that me and our children were taken care of. He knew we wouldn't have to worry the rest of our lives. Now, we do."
They say the Chamber should not have campaigned in support of the cuts.
"The Chamber supported this 100%. They supported ripping out the benefits from under us. Taking away what these people were promised, what they earned."
"The people that vote on these things, they don't live it. They wear suits and ties to work, they sit in an air conditioned office."
Because of the protest "outbreak," nearby Shelby County police officers were called in to help maintain public safety. Memphis mayor A. C. Wharton says the city has no choice in the matter, a state law requires them to fully fund pension plans within five years.
The city is considering options and may divert funds to bailout the city's pensions.