Duties of a Senior Security Officer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power: Direct officers who patrol and protect buildings and their occupants. Oversee the investigation of accidents, thefts and disturbances. Have good judgment.
The city’s job description doesn’t mention the possibility of serious overtime, but it’s there. Senior Security Officer Ricardo Frias earned more overtime than any city or county worker in the entire state of California last year. His overtime pay — $313,865 — far eclipsed his regular salary — $25,134, according to state data.
He is not alone. Another 305 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees also earned more than $100,000 in overtime, or 11% of the state’s total.
Use of overtime by city and county governments has skyrocketed in California over the past decade, according to an analysis of state data from the Southern California News Group.
- In 2011, only 171 workers earned $100,000 or more in OW.
- In 2018, nearly 3,000 workers earned $100,000 or more in overtime, an increase of 1,564%.
And what local governments spend on overtime has more than doubled.
- In 2011, cities and counties spent $2 billion on overtime.
- In 2018, they spent $4 billion on overtime.
During this period, inflation only increased by 11.6%. So what’s going on?
Expensive public security pensions, officials said. Since overtime doesn’t count toward retirement, cities and counties use overtime to fill open shifts to keep their public pension contributions lower. If they hired more workers to fill those shifts, their pension bills would go up.
“Local government is caught between two steadfast forces: taxpayers who are reluctant to support tax increases, and civil servants’ unions who want more lucrative contracts – especially pensions – and resist downsizing, privatization , outsourcing and consolidation,” Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University, said via email.
“At the same time, a growing and increasingly urbanized population has additional needs (eg homelessness, affordable housing). This is especially true for fire services in the age of climate change. Given these constraints, it is not surprising that occupational therapy hours are increasing; something has to give.
Given current trends, public safety — fire and police — will be the only service provided by local governments, Smoller said.
The overwhelming majority of employees earning more than $100,000 in overtime were firefighters, or 65% of the total.
Another 20% were law enforcement personnel – police officers, sheriff’s deputies, prison-related workers.
And the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power alone accounted for 11% of the $100,000 in overtime, with the top earners coming from the Safety Department. LADWP workers make up about 2.2% of the state’s city and county workforce.
A senior security guard had a regular salary of $32,344 and overtime of $229,117.
Another had a regular salary of $40,800 and overtime of $221,620.
Yet another had a regular salary of $45,929 and overtime of $196,244.
City of Los Angeles officials did not respond to requests for comment in a timely manner.
On average statewide, workers on $100,000 overtime slightly more than doubled their regular overtime pay. But, as the Frias case illustrates, there were also great extremes.
A San Bernardino County probation corrections officer earned $49,845 in regular pay and more than double — $108,181 — in overtime.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department captain earned $140,563 in regular pay and more than double – $284,373 – in overtime.
An Ontario city fire engineer earned $166,107 in regular pay and $265,431 in overtime.
Firefighters typically work more than 50 hours per week and are on call for emergencies. It is cheaper to fill open shifts with overtime than to hire new workers due to the high costs of public safety benefits.
Ontario City Manager Scott Ochoa said OT bills are generally a function of two things: responding to a growing number of strike crew requests across the state due to wildfires ; and staff local teams required by the “constant staffing model,” union agreements that require a certain number of people to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“What we see occasionally with organizations requiring minimal staffing is that someone is going to work that extra shift (necessitated by injury or illness, vacation, training, FMLA, etc.), but for some reason a handful of individuals pick it up,” Ochoa said via email.
“In other words, whether the OT was split between one person or five people, someone was going to take care of it.”
The new development and the addition of emergency responsibilities for Ontario International Airport has also created a demand for more staff in his city, he said.
The Ontario fire engineer with $265,431 in overtime is also a qualified heavy rescue and aircraft rescue paramedic, city spokesman Tom Lorenz said. The firefighter’s overtime was the product of the staffing required to fill vacant shifts.
Another driver is rising labor costs due to new union contracts, officials said. Employee compensation remained largely stagnant during the Great Recession, but began to pick up in 2014-15 with new contracts and higher base pay, which is also driving up overtime pay.
In Orange County, firefighting is largely the responsibility of the Orange County Fire Authority, a separate local government known as a special district, and therefore not included in the county/city count. Similarly, Riverside County Fire Departments are provided by the state and therefore do not appear in local data.
The fact that some emergency workers are essentially working double the normal number of hours has raised concerns about their safety – and the safety of the public they are meant to protect.
Battalion leaders on duty monitor staff fatigue and performance, especially when workers are “held back” for another shift, Ontario’s Ochoa said.
Some agencies largely manage to keep things under control.
Fullerton, a legacy town that runs its own fire and police departments, had just one employee who earned more than $100,000 in overtime last year — a firefighter. How? ‘Or’ What? Its fire department cut several positions and hired new recruits, easing the burden of overtime, city manager Ken Domer said.
The Southern California News Group’s analysis of the most recent public payroll data shows that statewide, 220 city and county workers earned more than half a million dollars in total compensation last year. last year.
“These data are just one more example of why we need to rethink service delivery and whether current government structures are working,” said Smoller, Professor Chapman.