Overtime Pay

By Judy Lin, The Associated Press
Posted: 03/22/15, 2:06 PM PDT |

SACRAMENTO >> Overtime for California’s state workers rose 20 percent last year and topped $1 billion even though there are 20,000 fewer employees than in pre-recession 2008, the last time the state paid out so much, according to new payroll data.

The increase comes after years of recommendations from the state auditor and budget analyst calling for reducing vacancies, using more relief staff and negotiating less-costly labor contracts for workers in state prisons and hospitals, which generate the most overtime pay.

According to the state controller’s payroll data reviewed by The Associated Press, California spent $1.13 billion in 2014 in overtime pay for its 220,000 workers, compared to $947 million in overtime for roughly 215,000 workers in 2013.

Overall payroll went up 7 percent from $15.3 billion to $16.4 billion as California enjoys a second year of budget surplus.

Some of the increase in overtime can be attributed to unanticipated costs, such as last year’s severe wildfire season. But departments with the highest overtime were not able to explain what drove the spike beyond usual challenges to fill vacant positions and cover critical shifts when employees take time off.

One taxpayer advocate said it’s unfortunate that because the economy is doing well, politicians lack the incentive to adopt personnel practices to restrain overtime.

“California remains the land of milk and honey for public employees,” said Jon Coupal, president of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “It’s always been that way.”

State officials acknowledged that more needs to be done to minimize overtime, particularly at institutions that treat patients and inmates for psychiatric and medical care. Half of all the overtime billed in 2014 came in the chronically understaffed Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, said the administration is trying to make sure vacancies do not become an issue that drives overtime, but noted that some types of workers are difficult to recruit and retain because there’s a shortage of workers for some positions, such as psychiatrists.

Some overtime costs are difficult to budget. The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had $139 million in overtime last year, the most in the past 10 years, according to payroll data. The state battled 5,620 fires in 2014, nearly 1,000 more than the state’s five-year average.

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