King Co. Jail payroll policy good for workers, bad for taxpayers

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on November 20, 2013 at 11:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 21 at 6:52 AM

Some King County government employees are able to boost their incomes by taking advantage of vacation and overtime policies -- at the expense of taxpayers and at a time of tight budgets at all levels of government.

A KING 5 Investigators review of timesheet information for workers at the county's Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention found 2,153 instances since Jan. 1, 2012, in which jail employees received overtime pay on a day they were also using vacation or comp time. A total of 378 employees did it at least once during the time period.

One example of how a jail employee can take advantage of current rules: A nightshift corrections officer can take a vacation day for his regularly scheduled shift. He can then work vacation relief on a dayshift schedule and earn overtime salary -- time and a half. The officer loses 8 hours of vacation time, but earns 1.5 times his regular pay.

The jail's budget takes another hit because it has to pay another officer at the overtime rate to fill the nightshift officer’s regular shift.

Officials interviewed by KING 5 couldn’t say exactly how much more the practice costs the county.

The workers are not breaking any rules, but the practice raises questions about why the county has not moved to close the overtime loopholes.

“It’s not OK if employees are just shifting their work hours because they don’t like their shift or because they want to work overtime instead of straight time,” said jail director Claudia Balducci.

Records show that a corrections sergeant took advantage of the practice the most: In 76 instances he received overtime pay on a day he was also taking vacation or comp time. Records show this year the sergeant earned an additional $14,344 because of it.

Balducci said there are legitimate reasons for many of the premium payments.

“You know, we might have people who are working as supervisors and they take the day off. And if their employees need a question answered and call them and they answer and they take the call at home, that’s actual work time -– that’s a legitimate use,” said Balducci.

But she said jail administrators don’t know how many of the cases KING 5 identified were proper overtime payments.

“It’s hard to tell which instances are legitimate and which instances are not,” said Balducci. “When we became aware of it we decided that we needed to do something about it because it’s not OK.”

Detention officers were not the only jail employees who took advantage of the overtime loophole. Human resources, cooks and budget specialists were among those who reported overtime on a vacation or comp day.

Balducci took over as jail director in 2010, but she said she only became aware of the payroll practice last year. And she said there's no way she can stop it without changing the labor agreement with jail workers.

"There was nothing [in the current contract] that said they could not do this," Balducci said.

Balducci has already negotiated a new labor contract with the jail's 13 captains that forbids them from assigning themselves overtime work. The change was made because many of the employees who took advantage of the overtime rule are supervisors who have the ability to assign their own shifts.

Balducci said she has an agreement in principle with the corrections guild, which represents the largest group of jail workers, but the contract has not been finalized.

Carmen Aguiar, a certified public accountant in Bellevue, said the county jail's timesheet policy "would not be sustainable" if a business used it.

"It did not seem like an efficient model to run any organization, be it government or small business or medium business," Aguiar said. "I would say they need to look at their policy, look at their culture. It seems like time for a change."

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