Philadelphia city workers' overtime bonanza rises again, to $215 million in 2014

PhillyOTByYear
Philadelphia's overtime payouts from 2010 to 2014, according to city payroll records. Overtime spending increased 30 percent during that time.

The overtime bonanza continues for Philadelphia city employees.

The City of Philadelphia doled out nearly $215 million in overtime last year, an increase of $16 million from the previous year and the fourth straight year OT has climbed, according to a Philly.com analysis.

A big part of the cause: City officials keep hiring down to control benefit costs. But that also triggers massive amounts of overtime to cover the work. Many workers routinely receive more in OT than their base salaries. That pads retirement benefits — despite the city’s chronically underfunded pension system.

More than 11,600 city employees whose overtime counts toward their pensionable earnings made at least some OT last year, boosting the workers’ pay for the year by an average of about $9,000.

As in previous years, police officers and firefighters earned the largest amounts of overtime, though their OT earnings don’t count toward their pensions.

The most recent total was calculated from the 2014 city payroll provided through a request filed under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.

Pension padding

The 8 percent increase in overtime use last year is potentially troubling in light of its long-term effect on the pension system. Philly.com reported last year that overtime can bolster pension compensation — at times by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a retirement.

For instance, one Health Department janitor, who worked more overtime hours than any other city employee in 2013 according to a Philly.com analysis, could eventually earn an annual pension of more than $42,000 on a salary that last year paid him $30,000.

The janitor, Val Barkley, earned $50,000 in overtime in 2014, bringing his six-year total to more than $286,500.

In 2014, more than 140 city employees earned more in overtime than they did in base salary, including 75 prison workers, whose overtime pay counts toward their pensionable earnings.

A PICA report in January recommended that the city stop counting overtime toward non-uniformed employees’ pensionable pay, writing that the “inequitable” system “creates opportunities for employees to inflate pensions through increased overtime near the end of their career.”

The $100G overtime club

On the department level, eight of the 10 biggest spenders of overtime last year saw increases. The police department gave out $72 million — $6 million more than in 2013 — and again led the city in OT costs.

Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said some of the OT cost is due to understaffing.

“The department is slated to have 6,500 sworn [officers] and we currently fall just under that number due to retirements, illness, deaths, etc. and also from not having the same amount of new officers [recruits] to replenish those leaving the department,” Stanford said in an email. “We would be delighted to add new officers to the ranks.”

Other overtime has come from deploying officers to major events like concerts and demonstrations, he said.

The department with the third-largest overtime payments, however, the Philadelphia Prison System, reduced its OT spending by 4.3 percent last year.

City officials monitor overtime trends, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said, and work with departments to reduce those costs. McDonald noted that the Fire Department, which had a small bump in overtime payouts last year and, at $37.4 million, is the city’s second-biggest OT spender, is in the process of implementing unspecified “new measures” to curb overtime.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has defended his department's highest OT-earning employees. They are homicide detectives and homicide supervisors, who consistently dominate the top of the OT earners' list.

“If working the case, I don’t want you to go home,” Ramsey told Philly.com last year, adding that homicide detectives, particularly those working the overnight shift, often “go beyond their tour of duty” in investigating killings.

Four police officers made more than $100,000 in overtime alone in 2014. Three of those detectives -- John Harkins, Levi Morton and James Pitts -- also broke six figures in 2013.

Topping the overtime list in 2014 was another detective, Donald Marano, who raked in about $104,000, bringing his total pay to nearly $180,000, according to the payroll data.

OT’s benefits

The city has said it is trying to curb costs by hiring fewer workers, leading to savings in salaries, health benefits and other areas, even if that strategy leads to employees logging more overtime hours.

“There are benefits of using overtime,” McDonald wrote in an email, noting that using OT instead of new employees “does not trigger the array of benefits.”

In the police department, though, nearly all employees -- in 2014, 88.5 percent of them -- got at least some overtime pay.

“Due to us not having a full 6,500 [sworn officers], some of the overtime is paid for with the money that would have paid for those salaries,” Stanford said, reiterating the department’s desired personnel size. “Therefore, our city residents aren’t just eating this increase in overtime.”

More than 2,500 in the department earned $10,000 or more in overtime last year.

That overtime can boost workers, particularly police and fire personnel, to near the top of the city payroll: Fifteen of the 50 workers with highest total earnings last year were ranked among the most well-paid only because they raked in tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.