Public Servants?

Sometimes I feel like I’m just in the wrong line of work or at the very least, in the wrong sector.

Overtime fattens paychecks of state workers
77 employees topped $200,000 last year, a big jump from 2004

Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, July 24, 2006

Most state employees earn modest salaries of less than $50,000 a year, plus a decent pension and other benefits. But a growing number are earning more than $200,000 a year.

For example:

— Jose Chacon, a lieutenant in the state prison system, earned $228,971 in 2005, more than half of that in overtime.

— Dr. Tam Bui, who works at San Quentin, earned $299,040 in 2005, including $162,468 in overtime. Bui earned more in overtime than any other state employee in both 2004 and 2005.

— Mark Anson, former chief investment officer for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, earned $678,665, including $269,483 in performance bonuses.

Overall, 77 state employees earned at least $200,000 — including overtime and other payments — a 60 percent jump from 2004, according to payroll records obtained from the state controller (excluding employees in the state university systems and the Legislature).

“That’s more than the governor makes,” said Ron Roach, a spokesman for the California Taxpayers’ Association, noting that the governor’s annual salary is $175,000, though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger waives the payment. “I think the taxpayers should be concerned that there are people who are earning such incredible amounts of money.”

The governor’s office declined comment.

The figures raise questions about the state’s ability to rein in overtime costs. Many of the state employees who made the list of high earners did so only because they earned tens of thousands of dollars working extra shifts.

Overtime is controversial because it can cost the state more than hiring additional employees.

Workers typically make time and half when they work extra hours. And a 1999 state audit noted, “Overtime can also lead to increased use of employee sick time, greater employee turnover, more workplace injuries, added disability claims and loss of productivity.”

Doctors make up the biggest share of workers earning more than $200,000.

For instance, 29 psychiatrists and other doctors at state mental hospitals earned at least $200,000 in 2005, twice as many in 2004.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Mental Health pointed out that the department opened a new hospital in Coalinga in September, which required the department to add more employees. And existing staffers are picking up extra shifts to handle the load.

“We’re ramping up staffing,” said Kirsten Macintyre, the spokeswoman. “In the meantime, the staff who have been hired are doing a lot of overtime.”

There are also more doctors in the state prison system who earned more than $200,000 — thanks to overtime — as the system struggles to hire enough doctors to cover all its shifts.

In addition, two prison officers (a sergeant and a lieutenant) earned over $200,000 last year, versus zero the year before. More than 3,600 prison guards earned more than $100,000 last year, including overtime and other payments. The median pay for a prison guard is around $67,000.

“There is a lot of overtime, because there are a lot of vacancies,” said department spokeswoman Terry Thornton. “The inmate population is growing, and it’s hard to keep up.”

More money managers also made the list of top paid employees thanks to increased salaries and bonuses. In fact, the state’s nine highest-paid employees work for the state two main pension funds, CalPERS and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

CalPERS spokesman Pat Macht said the agency boosted the pay for many of its employees after conducting a survey that found they were paid less than their peers in the banking and insurance industries. The teachers retirement system also boosted pay to recruit and retain top employees.

But many say the managers’ pay is justified because they handle billions of dollars in investments.

“They’re worth every penny,” Macht said. “Every dollar they earn is another dollar less that the taxpayers have to bear.”

Zach Hall, head of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, earned $284,386 last year. (His annual salary is actually $389,004, but he received less than that last year because he started in March 2005.)

The state payroll data also show that many workers increased their salaries with other types of pay.

For instance, Wes Franklin, the former executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, received $105,000 when he retired last year because he had accrued more than 37 weeks of overtime.

Nhuhy Hathuc, a prison psychiatrist, retired with a lump sum payment of $145,396. And Charles Snyder, a manager at the Department of Motor Vehicles, retired with $118,284 in paid leave.

Technically, state agencies are supposed is to limit the number of vacation hours employees accrue to 640 hours — or nearly four months. But not every department has enforced the limit, according to Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration.

Overall, records show that 21 state workers received, when they quit, at least $100,000 in lump-sum payments to compensate them for unused leave they accumulated over the years.

But at least one agency wouldn’t explain what some employees were paid for. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection would only say that “other pay” includes a variety of items, including car allowances, overtime and workers’ compensation. But for privacy reasons, spokesman Michael Jarvis said, he couldn’t break down the pay any more specifically for individual employees because one of the possible components is workers’ comp, which the department considers confidential.

For instance, payroll records show Battalion Chief Peter Yaninek received $82,482 in other pay. But Jarvis said he wasn’t allowed to explain what the money was for.

The 200K club The number of state workers earning at least $200,000 has soared over the past year. Much of the pay is for overtime, bonuses, vacation payouts and other cash compensation on top of regular salaries.

All this aside, it’s amazing how quickly overtime adds up and can blow your annual budget long before the fiscal year is through (if you’re not working in the public sector that is). Just remember, in California you cannot dock any type of overtime pay, even if the employee violated policy by working overtime without permission. You can, however, address the perfomance/policy violation. That way, you get the message across while saving yourself a trip to the Labor Board.

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