THE WATCHDOGS: A third of Chicago city workers make $100K or more

Nearly one out of every three workers on the city of Chicago payroll made $100,000 or more last year — a far higher percentage of six-figure employees than in state or Cook County government. 

That’s according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis that for the first time combines city workers’ salaries, overtime and other extra pay.

Twenty-six city workers drew paychecks that eclipsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pay of $216,210, the analysis found. They included a police detective, two fire department ambulance commanders and two water department operating engineers.

And 152 workers more than doubled their base pay through OT and a wide range of pay incentives — including “specialty pay” in the fire department and “baby furlough day” buybacks for police.

Altogether, city taxpayers paid $2.93 billion in 2014 to 35,761 city government employees, from lawyers and librarians to part-time crossing guards and student interns, according to records that Emanuel’s administration refused for months to release.

A sizable chunk of that money — $256.1 million — was for “other” pay, according to the data City Hall eventually provided to the Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. That includes retroactive raises, duty-availability pay, uniform allowances, holiday pay, end-of-career compensatory time payouts and shift differentials.

Ninety-six percent of that “other” pay went to police and fire employees — the city’s two largest groups of workers.

On top of that, the city spent $240.8 million on overtime. Police and fire personnel collected 67 percent of that OT. Ten employees made more than $100,000 apiece in overtime: four police officers, three water department operating engineers, two emergency call operators and a fire captain.

Emanuel posts city salary and overtime data separately on a city website. But when the Sun-Times sought the total amounts paid to all city workers, his administration refused, eventually agreeing to release the information only after the newspaper appealed to the Illinois attorney general’s office, which helps enforce the state’s open-records law.

Last month, Emanuel muscled a 2016 budget through the Chicago City Council that includes a $543 million property-tax increase to help shore up the city’s severely underfunded police and fire pension funds. By a 35-15 vote, aldermen also approved a new, $9.50-per-household garbage-collection fee to bring in about $62 million, as well as a separate, $45 million property-tax hike to be transferred to the financially struggling Chicago Public Schools.

The benefits and overtime given to city employees — 90 percent of them represented by unions — are mainly the result of labor contracts that have been negotiated over a span of decades. The rationale has been that the workers should be compensated for their unusual schedules and the dangers many of them face.

City Hall requires police officers, firefighters and emergency communications operators to work nights, weekends and holidays. Streets and sanitation and water department employees get called in to work when, say, a snowstorm hits or a water main breaks.

Last year’s brutal winter was a key reason that water department workers averaged $11,245 apiece in overtime, second only to fire department employees, who made an average of $11,488 in overtime. Streets and San workers averaged $5,930 apiece in OT.

Overtime isn’t counted toward any city worker’s pension.

Emanuel’s staff says overtime offers taxpayers a better deal than hiring more employees, especially police officers.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a non-partisan tax policy and government research organization, is skeptical.


Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times file photo

“In light of the severe financial stress the city is under — and in light of the [Illinois] Supreme Court ruling that severely limits any changes to existing employees’ or retirees’ pensions — it is imperative the city’s management look at overtime, look at extra pay and see how much of that could be eliminated through sufficient staffing and management,” says Msall.

The Sun-Times’ examination of city government pay shows that hundreds of city employees worked long hours, got special training and took advantage of some of the provisions in their contracts to pull down paychecks more lucrative than those of Emanuel’s top managers. Among the findings:

• A total of 11,284 city workers made $100,000 or more last year, amounting to 32 percent of the payroll. In state government, 11 percent of employees made in the six figures, records show. In the Cook County government and medical system, that figure was 12 percent.

• The median pay for city employees was $86,102, compared to $60,878 for state government workers and $63,355 for Cook County government and medical system workers. The average pay for city workers was $81,964, compared to $58,284 for state employees and $67,066 for county employees.

Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the city’s budget office, says the higher number of public safety workers on the city payroll explains those gaps.

“While the city’s public safety personnel are compensated at a level commensurate with the vital role they serve . . . the city’s remaining staff — 40 percent of the workforce — is paid at a similar level to county and state employees serving in non-public safety roles,” Poppe says. “Further, the city salaries are reflective of the higher cost of living in Chicago.”

• Sixty-one city employees — including the mayor and police Supt. Garry McCarthy — made $200,000 or more. Another 11,223 workers made $100,000 to $199,999.

(Breakdowns of some workers’ pay are at the end of this story. To search the city data, see below.)

Click on the image to see the pay of all 35,761 city government workers.• The 5,569 people who drew paychecks in the fire department, from battalion chiefs to firefighters and emergency medical technicians to clerical staff, were paid an average of $111,139 — the most of any city department. Building department employees ranked second, at $88,870. Police employees were third, at $88,040.

• The police department allows officers to accumulate compensatory time, which they can cash out when they leave the department. Five officers retired, each collecting between $105,105 and $162,739 mostly by cashing in comp time accumulated over decades.

• Unlike beat cops and detectives, police supervisors can cash in 200 hours of comp time a year, which allowed several top cops to boost their pay by about $11,000 apiece. Those supervisors also were paid about $9,000 each in “supervisors’ quarterly OT.”

• Police officers get between 20 and 25 vacation days a year, depending on their years of service. They also get between three and six “baby furlough days” — extra vacation time that has nothing to do with babies. The city pays officers who don’t use those extra days, with some who cashed them in collecting more than $2,800 each. In 2011, the most recent for which figures were available, baby-furlough pay cost taxpayers nearly $7 million.

• City Hall spent $21.7 million on holiday pay — $17.5 million to firefighters and another $4.2 million to police officers. Cops and firefighters get 13 paid holidays a year — one more than other city workers get. Firefighters get extra pay for working holidays; police officers get a mix of pay and comp time.


“Daley days” are a benefit that dates to the City Hall tenure of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. | Sun-Times file photo

• Every month, 3,856 firefighters get two “Daley days” under a program begun in the late 1960s under Mayor Richard J. Daley to reduce the number of hours firefighters work. Those firefighters typically work eight 24-hour shifts a month, which averages 44 hours a week. Without Daley days, they’d work 10 shifts a month, or 55 hours a week. Firefighters summoned to work on their Daley day get overtime. If that Daley day comes on a holiday, they get 60 hours of pay for their 24-hour shift.

• Police officers and firefighters who have special training get paid for that expertise — a total of more than $40 million in 2014. Cops get extra pay when they’re detailed to work for the Chicago Housing Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority or special traffic details — with those agencies or the state reimbursing the city. Firefighters get specialty pay for working as divers and for having hazardous-materials certifications, among other things.

• The city paid police officers $36.8 million and firefighters $14.6 million in duty-availability pay — compensation for the city’s ability to call them in to work at any time.

After succeeding Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011, Emanuel began negotiating with the city’s public safety unions, whose contracts expired the following year. In 2014, the mayor inked five-year deals with the largest of those unions — the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 and the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 — awarding them 11 percent raises over five years retroactive to July 1, 2012. Both deals expire on June 30, 2017.

The firefighters’ union ended up endorsing Emanuel’s re-election. The police union didn’t.

“This was the second-smallest wage package in more than 30 years of formal collective bargaining for police and fire,” says Poppe, who points out that City Hall has increased the wait time for new police officers to become eligible for duty-availability pay from one year to three and a half years.


Dean Angelo, Fraternal Order of Police president. | Sun-Times file photo

Dean Angelo, the president of FOP Lodge No. 7, defends the benefits police officers get, noting that high six-figure pay for cops isn’t the norm.

“When it’s one person earning $200,000 or more . . . I think it demonstrates the need for more bodies,” Angelo says. “If you’re earning that much, you’re working a lot. I don’t think it’s a good thing for the individuals, their families or a good thing for the department.”

Firefighters’ union president Tom Ryan says taxpayers are “absolutely” getting “their money’s worth” under his union’s latest deal. Some ambulance crews, he says, are doing as many as 20 runs a day, and firefighters have to deal with a wide range of potential hazardous-materials disasters given Chicago’s position as a transportation hub.

“We don’t just go to fires any more,” Ryan says. “When people are having the worst days of their lives, they call us, and we’re there. . . . You’ve got the best damned fire department in the country.”

Contributing: Data Reporting Lab editor Darnell Little


A look at some of Chicago’s top-paid city employees last year, where the mayor ranks and other highlights of the Sun-Times’ findings, with the highest-paid workers listed first along with how they rank overall in terms of total pay:

No. 1 — Lupe Pena, 25th District police commander (died in October 2014): $292,484

Salary: $104,575 before his death at 51

Overtime: $862

Other: $187,047 mostly for unused compensatory time paid to his family

No. 2 — Gary J. Basile, Fire Department captain: $286,453

Salary: $118,854 through Nov. 30, 2014, when he retired and began collecting a $93,381 a year pension

Overtime: $122,066

Other: $45,533, including $12,329 in specialty pay, $18,098 in retroactive pay, $8,503 in holiday pay and $3,270 for duty availability

 No. 3 — Garry F. McCarthy, police superintendent: $260,004

No overtime or other pay

No. 5 — David J. Ryan, police forensic investigator: $241,568

Salary: $103,503

Overtime: $79,846

Other: $58,219, including $49,060 for Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Transit Authority special employment, $3,220 for duty availability and $2,376 for cashing in baby furlough days

No. 6 — Brian J. McLaughlin, Fire Department captain: $240,731

Salary: $124,225

Overtime: $75,919

Other: $40,587, including $16,605 in retroactive pay, $12,329 in specialty pay, $5,500 in holiday pay and $3,270 for duty availability

No. 11 — William P. Marshall, Water Department assistant chief operating engineer: $229,409

Salary: $107,582

Overtime: $115,188

Other: $6,639

No. 17 — Salvador E. Avila, police lieutenant: $221,140

Salary: $117,072

Overtime: $39,862

Other: $64,206, including $33,715 for “saturation” and “roadside” special employment, $13,261 in retroactive pay, $7,038 in supervisors’ quarterly overtime and $4,525 for cashing in comp time

No. 18 — Kevin E. Nitsche, Fire Department lieutenant-EMT: $220,745

Salary: $110,625

Overtime: $73,305

Other: $36,815, including $14,514 in retroactive pay, $10,979 in specialty pay, $4,898 in holiday pay, $3,270 for duty availability and $1,454 for continuing education

No. 23 — Edward W. Heerdt, police detective: $218,194

Salary: $87,818

Overtime: $109,560

Other: $20,816, including $11,004 for Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Transit Authority special employment, $3,220 for duty availability and $2,016 for cashing in baby furlough days

No. 24 — Daniel A. Kolakowski, Water Department assistant chief operating engineer: $217,068

Salary: $109,607

Overtime: $105,042

Other: $2,419

No. 27 — Mayor Rahm Emanuel: $216,210

No overtime or other pay

No. 29 — David J. Doggett, Fire Department chief helicopter pilot/EMT: $214,484

Salary: $131,981

Overtime: $44,363

Other: $38,140

No. 78 — Lisa Y. Jamison, OEMC police communications operator: $194,520

Salary: $80,086

Overtime: $113,934

Other: $500

No. 190 — Scott F. Slavin, police sergeant: $180,707

Salary: $105,609

Overtime: $18,734

Other: $56,364, including $14,658 for “saturation” and “roadside” special employment, $10,179 for cashing in comp time, $8,698 in retroactive pay, $6,001 for supervisors’ quarterly overtime, $3,220 for duty availability, $2,443 for cashing in personal days and $1,629 for cashing in baby furlough days

No. 300 — Homero Padilla, Water Department plumber: $175,745

Salary: $96,728

Overtime: $78,885

Other: $132

No. 325 — Lisa P. Schrader, mayoral chief of staff: $174,996

No overtime or other pay. Schrader left the administration this year

No. 575 — Thomas Czerniak, firefighter: $167,538

Salary: $82,389 through Nov. 13, 2014, when he retired and began collecting a $68,686 a year pension

Overtime: $25,768

Other: $59,381, including $32,529 for cashing in unused vacation time, $10,890 in retroactive pay, $4,433 in specialty pay, $3,955 in holiday pay and $3,840 for duty availability

No. 582 — Russell B. Modjeski, OEMC police communications operator: $167,313

Salary: $66,215

Overtime: $100,598

Other: $500

No. 1,045 — Mark W. Rashin, Water Department hoisting engineer: $157,837

Salary: $97,193

Overtime: $60,644

No. 1,293 — Rebekah C.M. Scheinfeld, transportation commissioner: $153,609

No overtime or other pay

No. 2,307 — Roberto J. Abreu, Transportation Department traffic signal repairman: $141,023

Salary: $94,480

Overtime: $44,903

Other: $1,640

No. 2,602 — Nicholas A. Tassone, Water Department construction laborer: $137,927

Salary: $78,224

Overtime: $59,703

No. 3,383 — Michael J. Mancari, Streets & Sanitation supervisor of lot cleaning services: $131,665

Salary: $119,471

Overtime: $12,194

No. 3,551 — Stephen McNamara, Aviation Department foreman of electrical mechanics: $130,511

Salary: $96,797

Overtime: $33,618

Other: $96

No. 17,881 — (median city pay) Shannon S. Hodrick, Water Department construction laborer: $86,102

Salary: $78,141

Overtime: $7,961

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