Los Angeles firefighter boosts $87,000 salary to over $400,000 via ‘dangerous’ levels of OT, other pay 

Soaring overtime pay allowed Los Angeles firefighter Donn Thompson to pocket $404,308 last year — more than quadruple his base salary, according to just-released data.

Today, Transparent California released previously-unseen 2015 public employee compensation data — complete with names, pay, and benefits — for 379 cities and 42 counties statewide on TransparentCalifornia.com, the state’s largest public sector compensation database.

The data reveals sky-high overtime (OT) payouts at the City of Los Angeles, which were up over 18 percent from the previous year. In fact, the top 20 largest OT payouts of the more than 245,000 employees surveyed statewide all went to Los Angeles workers.

The top 3 OT payouts statewide went to:

  1. Los Angeles fire captain James Vlach, whose $311,316 OT payout was 158% more than his $120,829 salary.
  2. Los Angeles firefighter III Donn Thompson, whose $286,733 OT payout was 229% more than his $87,158 salary.
  3. Los Angeles fire captain Charles Ferrari, whose $273,496 OT payout was 126% more than his $120,829 salary.

Such a large concentration of overtime pay within a select few employees is dangerous, particularly for fire fighters, according to Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner.

“These overtime payments indicate an average work-week in excess of 100 hours a week, for years on end. This is a recipe for disaster given the life-or-death situations fire fighters routinely encounter.”

Fellner pointed to the historical data on Transparent California that revealed all three of this year’s top OT earners had received outsized OT payments for at least the past three years, as shown in the chart below:

Overtime pay as % of base salary for 3 Los Angeles firefighters, 2013-2015


A survey of 60 Los Angeles County cities, excluding the city of Los Angeles, revealed that the average full-time city worker received $131,600 in total compensation last year.

The five Los Angeles County cities with the highest average compensation package for full-time, year round employees were:

  1. Redondo Beach: $155,852
  2. Manhattan Beach: $155,850
  3. Santa Monica: $152,050
  4. Beverly Hills: $150,648
  5. Downey: $150,129

The three highest-compensated city employees in Los Angeles County were:

  1. Los Angeles Harbor chief port pilot II Bent Christiansen: $510,805, retirement benefits not included.
  2. Los Angeles Harbor port pilot II John Betz: $494,216, retirement benefits not included.
  3. Los Angeles Harbor chief port pilot II Michael Rubino: $488,562, retirement benefits not included.

The importance of reporting total compensation

In the public sector, salary often represents only a fraction of an employee’s total compensation package, according to Fellner.

“While taxpayers may assume salary represents nearly all of an employee’s compensation package, some public employees collect compensation packages worth more than triple their base salary.”

As an example, Fellner pointed to three employees at the cities of Torrance, Long Beach and Santa Monica, all of whom collected compensation packages worth more than triple their salaries, as shown in the chart below:

Breakdown of compensation received by 3 Los Angeles-area city workers, 2015

The cities of Redondo Beach, Torrance and Downey ranked highest out of the 60 Los Angeles County cities surveyed, with total compensation coming in at 92, 87 and 83.5 percent more than total salary paid. The average Los Angeles city’s total compensation was 53.5 percent more than total salary.

Compensation is defined as total wages plus the employer cost of retirement and health benefits. Full-time, year-round employees are defined as those receiving a salary equal or greater to 90 percent of the “annual salary minimum” reported.

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit TransparentCalifornia.com.