The Sheriff’s Department is among the five departments in The City that account for more than 80 percent of all overtime spending. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Overtime spending increases by 90 percent in 9 years

More than 1,000 city employees last year exceeded the cap on allowable overtime hours worked

San Francisco’s overtime spending on city workers has increased by about 90 percent during the past nine years, reaching a grand total of $248.4 million last year.

The City’s latest annual overtime report shows that despite efforts to reduce overtime spending, it has only increased each fiscal year.

The report also shows that more than 1,000 city employees ignored an annual cap on overtime hours allowed, which doesn’t allow a worker to earn more than 520 overtime hours, or 25 percent of their regular hours, in a year. Exemptions are permissible, but city departments didn’t apply for exemptions.

City employees worked a combined 3.51 million hours in overtime last fiscal year, totalling $248.4 million. That’s a 5.4 percent increase from the 3.33 million hours worked in the previous fiscal year, when overtime spending totaled $219.9 million. In fiscal year 2009-2010, overtime spending was $130.1 million.

But Michael Mitton, City Controller’s Principal Administrative Analyst, a co-author of the report, told the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday that the overtime spending increase shouldn’t alarm them as a budgetary issue.

Mitton said overtime spending “is not really a fiscal issue.”

When compared to the costs of a new hire, including healthcare, overtime pay is basically a wash, according to Mitton. “It is actually about the same to use overtime rather than hire new workers,” he said.

He noted, however, that there are other issues, such as “equity and health of our employees.”

“When you say it is actually less expensive to use overtime, are we also measuring about productivity, for example?” Supervisor Sandra Fewer asked.

Mitton said that the restrictions in place are meant to address that, including a requirement that employees not work more than 72 hours per week, or 144 hours in a pay period, in addition to the overall annual cap.

“At some point they’ll reach the 25 percent cap and then they are supposed to stop,” he said.

It wasn’t made clear during the hearing why city departments failed to request exemptions from the Department of Human Resources to authorize 1,050 employees to work in excess of the annual cap last fiscal year. Of the 17 departments, only four filed for some exemptions for 67 employees. Of the total 1,117 employees who exceeded the cap, their average overtime was 36 percent of their regular hours worked.

The Sheriff’s Department’s chief financial officer Crispin Hollings told the committee that a failure to apply for an exemption last fiscal year for their 208 employees who exceeded the cap was “an administrative error,” and that the department had applied in previous years.

The Sheriff’s Department is among the five departments that account for more than 80 percent of all overtime spending and has seen the sharpest increases in recent years in overtime spending, which totalled $28.6 million last year. Hollings said the increase is due to a period of time when no new employees were hired and the department’s responsibilities expanded due to an increase in the number of people released on electronic monitoring devices.

Another issue is that “the distribution of overtime in the Department is highly skewed.”

“The top 10 percent of employees worked 35 percent of the total overtime hours department-wide,” the report found. “The top 5 percent of employees worked 22 percent of the total overtime hours. Seven employees worked more than 2,080 hours of overtime each, which means they worked more overtime hours than regular time hours.”

Hollings said that his office is working with the Mayor’s Office to have the funding in the upcoming budget to hire more staff and to fill some positions with civilians to reduce overtime.

The department had increased staffing in recent years, reaching 1,015 employees last year. But Hollings said that “we are still not at full staffing relative to what we actually need.”

He said that a recent City Controller’s analysis of their needs found “we have 240 fewer people than what our workload requires.”

“Maybe about 100 to 140 of that could be reasonably done with overtime. We need to bring on about 100 people,” Hollings said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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