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Editorial: City overtime pay out of whack

Sixty-seven percent of the city's $240.8 million in overtime pay went to police and fire personnel.

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What does it say when almost one in three Chicago city workers is paid $100,000 or more a year?

We’re not talking about just the big bosses. We’re talking about construction laborers and traffic signal repairmen, too.

Feeling confident City Hall is pinching your pennies?

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And what does it say when 152 city workers more than double their base pay through overtime and other extras?

How many workers in the real world — the world outside city employment — get to do that? Would a supervisor who approved that much OT last a week in the private sector?

Yet this is the norm in Chicago city government, where 10 employees made more than $100,000 a piece in overtime last year — four police officers, three water department operating engineers, two emergency call operators and a fire captain.

This is poor management. Nobody needs a Harvard MBA to see that. And Chicago has some absurdly generous work rules, negotiated with unions over decades, such as “baby furlough days” — extra vacation time that has nothing to do with babies.

At a time when Chicago homeowners and businesses are being hit up for an extra $588 million in property taxes over four years, it is imperative that City Hall challenge every hour of OT and every dubious work rule. Overtime pay often can be justified, of course, especially in public safety jobs like police officer and firefighter, but the sheer magnitude and percentage of OT should make every taxpayer skeptical. Who can even work that many hours and be at their best?

Better staffing and management is begged for.

In a Watchdogs Special Report in Sunday’s Sun-Times, reporters Chris Fusco and Tim Novak revealed that city taxpayers paid $2.93 billion in 2014 to 35,761 employees, from crossing guards to lawyers. That included $240.8 million in overtime pay, with 67 percent of that going to police and fire personnel. Another $256.1 million was for “other” pay, such as retroactive raises, duty-availability pay, uniform allowances, holiday pay and end-of-career compensatory time payouts.

Defenders of the status quo have their arguments. OT, they say, is cheaper than hiring more workers, who would have to be paid pensions and other benefits. And many employees, they say, work odd and constantly shifting hours, for which they deserve extra compensation. And the work they do can be dangerous.

We get that. There is truth there. It boggles the mind, nonetheless, that fully 32 percent of all city employees last year were paid $100,000 or more. In state government, only 11 percent of employees made six-figure incomes, and in county government it was 12 percent.

When budgeted salaries, before OT, become pretty much a fiction, management is doing a poor job.

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