A pair of public works supervisors put in 60 consecutive hours of overtime each during the snowstorm that dropped two feet of snow earlier in the month, according to municipal government records.
Manny Ojeda and Steve Howe each put in 63 straight hours of overtime from February 1-3. Ojeda and Howe each worked 24 hours of overtime on Feb. 1. Another 24 hours each on Feb 2. And another 15 hours each on Feb. 3, records show.
On Feb. 3, both men put in 15.50 hours of overtime each on top of their regular eight-hour shift. On Feb. 4, Howe put in 7.50 hours of overtime on top of his regular shift; Ojeda put in 15.50 hours of overtime for the same date on top of his regular shift.
Ojeda collected 86 hours of overtime from Jan. 31 through Feb. 4; Howe collected 78 hours of overtime from Jan. 31 through Feb. 4.
How much did they earn for each overtime hour? That information was not available.
“Is it humanly possible for someone to work 70 hours straight without taking breaks and sleep?” asked council president Flavio Rivera on Tuesday night.
Public works director William “Billy” Rodriguez said the employees received 30-45 minutes break here and there. He said they took half-hour sleep breaks.
“We had a historical storm. It was all hands on deck. Every driver that we had was fighting the storm and every truck we had,” said Rodriguez.
“There’s nothing under federal and state law – the wage and hour laws – that limit the hours an employee can work,” said Joshua Weiner of the Coughlin Duffy law firm. He said there may be New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) restrictions on heavy equipment operators. “It’s also just not safe, I would say, having these guys work that long without any sleep. But there’s nothing in the wage and hour laws that prevent an employer from doing that.”
Weiner, who specializes in employment law, said just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s wise to do it.
“We can’t send an employee home with the intention of bringing them back,” said Rodriguez.
“Why not?” asked Rivera.
Rodriguez said the labor contract does not allow him.
“It was actually snowing during those hours. These supervisors, deputy directors were working in their capacity overseeing the drivers who were out there and so on,” said business administrator Kathleen Long.
Other council members were muted in their criticism of the snowstorm overtime during the meeting.
“I think there is a level of oversight that is necessary,” said councilman Michael Jackson. “We’re asking these guys to work, but then we want to complain when it comes time to pay them.”
Records show a third employee, Jessica Schutte, put in 55 hours of overtime from Feb 1 through 6.
Councilman Alex Mendez, chairman of the public works committee, on Wednesday, said mayor Andre Sayegh and his administration are not doing enough to control overtime.
“I have a lot of concern because this administration is not following what’s going on with the overtime,” said Mendez. “Overtime with this administration is out of control.”
Mendez said Sayegh criticized overtime spending when he was on the council, but has done little curb it as mayor.
Sayegh did not respond to a call for comment.
Council members approved $133,000 in overtime for public works employees for the pay period that included the snowstorm.
Rivera was the sole vote against.
“It could be a liability issue,” said Rivera.
The city’s response to the snowstorm was heavily criticized by residents. Some roadways were not adequately cleared three days after the storm.
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