Special meeting called to discuss overtime pay
Kost presents informational overtime report to finance committee
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Rhinelander interim city administrator Keith Kost introduced an informational report regarding the city’s overtime policies at a special meeting of the Finance, Wage and Salary Committee April 5. Several public works employees were in attendance as Kost outlined proposed language alterations to the city employee handbook that would change the current overtime policy to only apply overtime rates to time worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. The language would also address the issue of “at will” employment. The proposal was informational only and no action was taken at the meeting.
The report showed the proposed overtime changes would have the biggest impact in the public works department, particularly during the snowplowing season. Aside from the unionized police and fire departments, public works represents the largest portion of overtime wages, according to the 2018 budget. Snow and ice removal overtime in 2017 came to about $35,000 and about $26,000 in 2016.
Kost presented a financial report detailing actual public works overtime for eight biweekly pay periods from the 2017-2018 season showing the city has paid out close to $31,000 in overtime from the beginning of December through the middle of March. Kost’s report presents a total savings of almost $17,000 in overtime wages for that same period if overtime was paid out after 40 hours a week rather than outside of regular scheduled hours, which the report calculated using the full overtime payout rather than the extra half-time over regular wage.
“There’s an old saying…legislation is like making sausage. If you watched somebody make sausage, you wouldn’t eat any.” – Keith Kost
One example on the report showed an employee that worked 22.17 hours of overtime outside of normal hours and earned $783.16 of overtime pay. Under an overtime policy paid after 40 hours a week, that same employee was shown to have zero overtime hours, or an overtime savings to the city of $783.16. What was not calculated in that savings was the regular wage payout that the employee would have earned.
“The chart is set up to show how we are currently paying overtime hours,” Kost explained. “The bottom chart is set up to show what the cost would be, or savings to the city, if overtime was only paid after 40 hours in a weekly pay period. The reason that actual salary is not there is actual salary has nothing to do with the cost of the overtime, because the actual salary could include regular salary, comp time banked, comp time used, sick time, vacation time, holiday pay, et cetera. And you’d be trying to mix an apple and an orange.”
The current employee handbook allows overtime after 37 ½ hours worked, as well as time worked outside of “normal scheduled hours.” The handbook also allows for paid time off to count towards hours worked in the calculation of overtime. According to Kost, Sunday hours are being paid at double time, a policy that is not in the current handbook but was allowed under the old union contract, which was eliminated after Wisconsin Act 10 removed collective bargaining rights for most public-sector employees.
While the city employee handbook does not define “regular scheduled hours,” Kost noted that normal scheduled hours, according to the union contract, were listed as 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer. On snow removal days, the proposal indicates that “employees currently claim overtime from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. even if they go home at 11 a.m.”
Tom Froehlich, a longtime public works employee, was on hand for the meeting along with several other public works employees. He said that some of the time paid out was compensatory rather than overtime, with compensatory being paid out at regular wage.
Kost also noted in the report that the surrounding townships of Crescent, Pine Lake and Newbold, as well as Oneida and Lincoln counties, pay overtime only after 40 cumulative hours. Comparable communities such as Merrill and Ashland do the same, with about half or more of employees taking their overtime as compensatory time.
Finance committee chairman Mark Pelletier said he wanted to cut the meeting short after taking comments from Froehlich, public works director Tim Kingman, and council member Tom Gleason.
“This is my last finance meeting, and I’m going to go down in a downward spin here,” he said.
Pelletier said the handbook changes would be considered at the discretion of the next finance committee, also noting that he wants to see all city employees treated fairly.
“There’s an old saying,” Kost said after Thursday’s meeting during a discussion of agenda postings. “Legislation is like making sausage. If you watched somebody make sausage, you wouldn’t eat any.”
“We didn’t want to make it look like it was going to be a fast one,” chairman Mark Pelletier said when discussing why the agenda item had been set as informational. “I was convinced…by everyone that it would be a good idea not to just push it.”
Pelletier announced the special meeting in March to discuss changes to the handbook, at which members of the finance committee expressed curiosity and requested information for the agenda for the special meeting. The Star Journal questioned both Kost and Pelletier regarding the handbook agenda, with both declining to provide specific information. Pelletier said they wanted to “clean up” handbook language, but added that he didn’t know the specific areas to be addressed and that Kost and city attorney Carrie Miljevich were putting the changes together.
When Kost was asked on April 2 whether the finance committee would get enough advance notice to review the proposed handbook changes, he replied, “If you keep it nice and simple, then decisions aren’t real hard; they’re a yes or no.”