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NYS Comptroller Finds Overtime By State Workers Climbing To New High

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says New York state agencies paid out $787 million in overtime for more than 18 million extra hours worked by state employees in 2018.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli

The comptroller's report says last year's total overtime cost was the highest in the past decade.  DiNapoli spokesman Brian Butry:   "There's been significant growth in state employee overtime in the past decade and it's continuing to climb, and, the recommendation that we've made to state agencies in the past continues this year and that they need to find better ways to manage their costs while providing residents with critical services. They've spent nearly $800 million last year on overtime, with 18 million overtime hours worked last year."

The agencies with the most overtime are the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and the Office of Mental Health.

Fran Turner is director of legislative and political action for the Civil Service Employees Association. CSEA has hundreds of thousands of union members.   "We weren't surprised by the overtime amount, especially in OPWDD. It's very hard to attract workers. These jobs are not easy. And it's hard to keep the workers there with so much overtime being mandated."

Public Employees Federation spokesperson Jane Briggs blames Governor Andrew Cuomo. "The bottom line for us is that state agencies continue to be understaffed, and that's what's forcing the need for mandated or voluntary overtime. We believe that the governor is not keeping state agencies adequately staffed and because of that it ends up costing taxpayers more money, and at the same time putting the well-being of some of our most vulnerable residents at risk."

Briggs says New Yorkers don't want their family members being cared for in facilities where nurses are forced to work 16-hour shifts.   "...or where there aren't enough nurses to care for someone who might need specialized care. So this is a very serious problem."

CSEA's Turner says while some workers appreciate the overtime, for others, it gets to be too much. She adds the affected agencies have been trying very hard to recruit... "...but it's hard to keep the workers there because you don't know when you go to work in the morning or at night when you're gonna get out the next day. People have families. They have children. So it's very hard."

Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi says since the governor took office, executive agency headcount is down 9,425 full-time employees or 7.4%.    "Overtime is used only when necessary, but the fact is that under this governor state government was modernized and streamlined and as a result overall head count is down and agency expenses have increased less than 1 percent over the last nine years. The alternative would be a larger, bloated and less efficient bureaucracy that taxpayers can't afford."

Butry at the comptroller's office urges the state "to find ways to better manage costs while providing taxpayers with critical services."   "It's incumbent upon each of the agencies that are named in the report to look at how they're using overtime, the costs associated with that, and then to do kind of a cost/benefit analysis. Is it more efficient to hire new employees or is it a practice where continuing overtime makes more sense. Is there a way to reduce overtime by specific amounts and bring in new staff that can kind of help not only the overtime costs but overall productivity. That's something that they should be examining."

The comptroller says the average number of state employees decreased slightly last year to nearly 156,000, a total that does not include employees of the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

Additional material provided by Comptroller DiNapoli:

Overtime has accounted for 3.9 percent of all state payroll costs from 2009 to 2018, totaling more than $6.1 billion. New York state policy calls for overtime work to be held to a minimum consistent with operational needs by proper scheduling and other arrangements.

Three agencies that manage institutional settings – the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) – accounted for 62.5 percent of overtime hours logged by all state agencies in 2018.

OPWDD and DOCCS experienced significant increases in overtime hours per employee over the past decade. Other agencies with comparatively large increases in such hours since 2009 include the Division of State Police, up 96.3 percent; the Office of General Services, up 87.7 percent and the Department of Transportation, up 79.5 percent. Agencies with decreases in overtime hours per employee included the Department of Labor, down 96.5 percent; and Department of Taxation and Finance, down 61 percent.

Agencies that reduced total overtime pay over last five years include the Office of Children and Family Services and the Department of Taxation and Finance.

See the full report at: http://osc.state.ny.us/reports/overtime/state-agency-overtime-report-2019.pdf

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.