Waste Watchers: Tracking OT trends in NYS

Emily Burkhard
Updated: November 12, 2020 06:47 PM
Created: November 12, 2020 06:26 PM

ALBANY - We all know budgets are under a lot of strain and state spending is under scrutiny this year. The pandemic has driven operating costs up and revenues down for months and those trends could continue for years to come.

So, it's no surprise that overtime opportunities were among the first things to go. What may surprise you is how much of your tax dollars went to paying overtime in years past.

Months ago, NewsChannel 13 filed freedom of information act requests with Office of the New York State Comptroller. We wanted to know who the top overtime owners were in each county and statewide. What we found, many people year after year were taking home six figures in overtime alone."

Since 2014, New York State's overtime budget climbed from $661 million to $806 million in 2019, with the exception of a $20 million decrease in 2016. Still, that represents a 22 percent increase in overtime spending overall.

The top three overtime earners statewide quadrupled their earnings, each bringing in at least double their base pay in overtime alone.

Most of the top OT earners are working in facilities run by the Offices for People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health as well as the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

NewsChannel 13 reached out to the agencies at the top of the list for interviews, but those requests were denied.

"The overwhelming majority of overtime in the state of New York for CSEA members are either voluntary or mandated overtime in these agencies that are short-staffed,” CSEA spokesperson Mark Kotzin said. “Until we address those short staffing issues we're not gonna see that overtime go away."

In the Capital Region, most of the top overtime earners doubled, tripled or even quadrupled their pay with overtime. Many of them work for OPWDD or OMH.

The top earners in Albany and Rensselaer counties last year have been top 10 earners five years running.

"When overtime hours get to an extreme for any individual employees that can potentially be a concern,” said Deputy Comptroller Robert Ward "That's a factor that managers and agency leadership need to look at closely and make sure that overtime is used appropriately.”

Kotzin said distributing OT is up to department supervisors and managers. In some instances, it's voluntary, but other times it's mandatory.

"I asked how bad it could get and I was told that in some cases they have been mandated to work triple shifts,” he said.

So why don't they hire more employees?  Kotzin said they're trying.

“We've looked at fast tracking the hiring process, doing things like making it easier to apply online, holding career fairs, reaching out to friends and family to try and have them apply for jobs and positions and just in general promoting the benefits of a good union job,” Kotzin said.

Something Scott Peoples, a direct care worker for OPWDD in Western New York, knows well.

Peoples began there over two decades ago. He's since become a father to a son with autism, so he understands the need for services both professionally and personally.

However, he also understands why it's hard to recruit and retain people in this field.

“You miss football games or you miss doctor appointments so you miss so many good things throughout the day that ordinary people don't have to,” Peoples said. “So that becomes challenging to people because people have lives outside of work or they have sick children or nursing mothers or they have a parent at home and that becomes the challenging part with keeping people around."

Kotzin said while the pandemic has certainly influenced staff numbers statewide, the effects aren't all bad. Especially considering some state facilities closed or suspended programs.

"They have units in the OPWDD they were able to move some of the staff from those facilities that have been closed down into some of the group homes and therefore alleviating some of the staffing issues that it existed previously,” Kotzin said.

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 13 for updates on this story.

If you’d like to view the overtime data released by OSC, click here.


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