More than a month after Department of Public Works employees worked overtime to set the stage and hung decorations over the city hall building for mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ inaugural ceremony on July 1st, only last week did the public works employees receive their overtime pay, even then the city still owes overtime for subsequent hours worked.
Department employees noticed the missing hours in their paychecks, and reached out to their union. “Some of my guys are missing three days of overtime,” said Michael Jackson, president of the public works employees union, on Thursday. “Like on the 4th of July weekend: they’re missing Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, a holiday.”
One worker was missing 56 hours of overtime, said Jackson. The union contacted the administration for an explanation. The union’s president said he spoke to the acting business administrator over the problem, but was told the administration has ceased to issue offline checks.
“Some peoples’ checks are wrong and they aren’t doing any offline checks to fix the problem,” said Jackson. Acting business administration Nellie Pou stated in a public meeting last month that the administration will no longer utilize offline checks. However, during that same time the administration was paying Division of Recreation employees using offline checks.
Pou did not respond to messages seeking her comments for this story.
With no offline checks being issued the workers had to wait a month before being paid for hours worked. Jackson filed a grievance on behalf of the workers. “My grievance basically states they can’t do that, it’s against the contract,” said Jackson. “It’s supposed to be the next pay check.”
Jackson said he also mentioned the issue to Manuel Ojeda, director of the department. Ojeda two weeks ago said he wasn’t familiar with the issue, but he would contact the union as soon as possible. “I talked to my director, and he’s even told them it’s contractual,” said Jackson.
Chairman of the city council’s public works committee Domingo “Alex” Mendez, councilman at-large, seemed confused during a phone call seeking his comments for this story. “I don’t have the facts straight, but I’ll get back to you,” said Mendez. The chairman has yet to get back with strait facts and his comments.
“First time I’m hearing about it. It was never brought to my attention as a councilperson nor as the chair of the finance committee that they had not been paid,” said chairman of the finance committee, Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. “Everyone should get paid for an honest day’s work, if they did the work they should be paid.”
Morris said there’s no problem with the offline checks. “Offline checks aren’t the problem, offline checks without the supporting documentation and justification are a problem,” said Morris.
If offline checks are needed to pay workers in a timely manner, said Morris, they could have been issued after necessary documents, timesheets and so forth, were reviewed. “I’d have no problem issuing an offline check,” said Morris. The councilman said offline checks are in place for emergent problems, and ruling them out isn’t practical in government.
Torres suggested that public works supervisors probably did not submit the overtime hours in a timely manner. “If for some reason it fell through the cracks, and we said we’re not going to pay offline checks, they’ll get it in their next payroll cycle,” said Torres.
When asked whether the issue presents a legal liability for the city, Torres slightly laughed, saying, “Let them grieve it out.”
“I don’t think they’re trying to hurt us,” said Jackson. “I think they’re trying to avoid some of those offline check problems that happened in the past.”
Mayor Torres and former mayor Jeffery Jones have been embroiled in controversies involving offline checks: Torres took an offline check for $74,000 which has been described by the state as “grossly inappropriate and potentially unlawful”; Jones took a $17,000 offline check, before being caught, he promised to return the money. Neither Torres nor Jones returned the funds.
On Friday, during the city’s customary 15th of month pay day, public works employees received their overtime pay, after waiting more than a month. Despite the belated payment, other workers have reported even then, the city has not paid them subsequent earned overtime. Two workers have observed 16 hours of overtime pay missing from their paycheck.
Jackson said a good many workers have bills to pay and often have auto draft setup in their bank accounts to pay bills, which results in additional fees being charged when the account has insufficient funds.
“Our guys don’t make that much money, so when they work overtime they, actually, most of the time it’s spent before they even get it,” said Jackson.
Updated: 11:35 a.m.