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Overtime battle not quite over

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City agencies notorious for paying employees time-and-a-half say a new law aimed at curbing overtime spending will not reduce the need to have some workers clock more than 40 hours per week.

A city employee cannot earn more than 30 percent of his or her salary in overtime per year under the new law, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 5. However, the rule does not cap overtime spending per department — and exceptions can be made in emergencies or situations where an employee’s specific skills are needed, Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda said.

“If, in the Coroner’s Office, all the physicians have already put in their overtime and there are still dead bodies to look at, the only thing they can do is hire more people — but that takes time,” Zmuda said. “So if they need more overtime, they could get an exception.”

Many of The City’s top OT spenders — including police, fire, Muni and the Department of Public Health — say the rules will not change the overtime need.

“Overtime is needed to fulfill the legal and ethical responsibilities of government,” said Joe Arellano, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office. “In some cases, like the Sheriff’s Department, we were responding to a mandate from the courts that no inmate could sleep on the floor — and that led to much higher overtime.”

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In the first half of 2008, the Police Department had 172 employees who made more than $20,000 in overtime, while Muni paid 141 transit operators, maintenance workers and other personnel at least that much for working extra hours, according to documents from the San Francisco Controller’s Office. The Fire Department had 114 employees who clocked enough overtime to make $20,000 or more in extra pay between January and June.

Public-safety officers often work overtime to keep stations staffed when other workers are out sick or called away to other duties, SFFD Deputy Chief Gary Massetani said.

For Muni, overtime is necessary in the face of ongoing staffing shortages — and that’s not likely to change because of the new law, spokesman Judson True said.

“We’re approximately 150 operators short of a full complement [of 2000], and as long as we continue to have a shortage, we will be using overtime to fill runs,” he said.

In addition to having a number of employees who made more than $20,000 in overtime in the first half of this year, many departments had employees who made more than their base salary in overtime, such as DPH nurse Christian Kitchin, whose salary was $65,750.09 and overtime pay was $127,741.72. Marcus Santiago, a park patrol supervisor, made $32,744.03 in base pay and $40,361.42 in overtime.

Many agencies are still sizing up how they will redistribute overtime hours.

For police and fire personnel, those changes likely will mean rookie officers or firefighters will get a crack at overtime pay — which is currently snapped up by whomever volunteers first, officials with those departments said.

For Muni, where 98 percent of overtime is handed out to employees who sign up for it, mandatory extra hours are typically handed out to employees by seniority, True said.

Although the laws may not reduce overtime use, those changes could ultimately save The City money.

“Spreading it around to more junior employees [who are paid less] will make each hour of overtime slightly cheaper,” Arellano said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

My Story
“As a business person, I do understand the need to cap overtime so that expenses can be predicted.”

Adrienne Smith, San Francisco, marketing professional

Outrageous overtime

Hundreds of city employees banked more than $20,000 in overtime between Dec. 28 and June 13. Listed are the top OT department spenders, with the highest earner in OT pay.

POLICE DEPARTMENT

Employees who made more than $20,000 in OT: 172
Top earner: Capt. John Hennessey
Salary earned: $9,313.50
Overtime earned: $96,154

MUNI

Employees who made more than $20,000 in OT: 141
Top earner: Jorge Chavez, transit supervisor
Salary earned: $41,906.77
Overtime earned: $52,065.71

SAN FRANCISCO SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

Employees who made more than $20,000 in OT: 131
Top earner: Barry Bloom, deputy sheriff
Salary earned: $39,445.13
Overtime earned: $89,475.39

FIRE DEPARTMENT

Employees who made more than $20,000 in OT: 114
Top earner: Gary Altenberg, firefighter
Salary earned: $45,976.97
Overtime earned: $71,676.51

DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Employees who made more than $20,000 in OT: 49
Top earner: Christian Kitchin, nurse
Salary earned: $65,750.09
Overtime earned: $127,741.72

Source: San Francisco Controller’s Office

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