140-hour average workweek boosts Orange County firefighter’s compensation to more than $1 million over the past two years

For the fifth year in a row, Fire Captain Gregory Bradshaw has topped the overtime pay list at the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), thanks to a $267,618 overtime payment which boosted his total compensation to $534,079 last year.

Bradshaw’s large overtime pay reflects a staggering 7,270 hours worked — 4,358 of which were overtime, according to the agency.

Remarkably, this is Bradshaw’s 2nd year in a row logging over 7,000 hours of paid work, as he worked a similar schedule in 2016 when he collected $508,495 in pay and benefits.

Overtime pay at the agency has been an issue since at least 2014, when one OCFA board member expressed frustration over “an accounting gimmick used to generate significant overtime costs,” according to an Orange County Register report.

Overtime pay can end up costing the agency twice, as certain forms can be used to inflate an employee’s future pension. These soaring costs are then passed on to OCFA’s member cities, not all of whom can afford such excess.

Recently, the member cities of Irvine and Placentia have begun the process of withdrawing from OCFA, according to a Voice of OC report. If the agency is unable to get its costs under control, other cities may soon follow suit.

Reforms undone

In an attempt to reduce some of the most wasteful and unnecessary factors behind such large overtime payouts, OCFA in 2015 ended the practice of treating paid leave as hours worked for the purposes of calculating overtime. But that cost-saving measure was immediately undone the following year, when the union succeeded in getting the perk reinstated.

Treating vacation days as hours worked is an essentially fraudulent practice, according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“Overtime pay is for those who work more hours than scheduled. Paying overtime to those who work the normal schedule or even fewer hours, while pretending their vacation days count as actual work, is yet another example of how government unions use their undue influence to force taxpayers to pay for perks they themselves will never get.”

The only lasting reform from that period was a much-touted overtime cap, which was implemented effective April 1, 2015 to “limit the number of overtime hours employees may work per year.”

But the policy, which ostensibly claims to limit the number of overtime hours worked to no more than 1,632 in a single year, is riddled with so many exemptions and loopholes that it has had no effect whatsoever.

In fact, overtime pay has actually soared since the cap took effect, as shown in the chart below:

Year Bradshaw’s OT Hours Total OT Pay # of $100K+ OT Payments OT Cap
2014 2,979 $39,105,580 7
2015 2,924 $39,423,301 15 1-Apr-15
2016 4,096 $46,610,219 44
2017 4,359 $55,664,348 83
% Increase since 2014 46% 42% 1086%

In addition to the explosion in OT hours and earnings for Captain Bradshaw, agency-wide overtime pay increased 42 percent since the cap took effect, and hit an all-time high of $55.6 million last year.

Similarly, the number of OCFA employees who received overtime payments of $100,000 or more is up 1,086 percent since 2014.

An easy way to save $5 million?

Firefighting will always require some degree of overtime, but it is unclear why OCFA assigns so many overtime hours to fire captains, particularly given their job description indicates their duties are primarily administrative and supervisory in nature.

Because of their much higher salaries, overtime hours assigned to fire captains cost 37 percent more than an hour of overtime pay paid to a regular firefighter. In aggregate, if all the overtime hours assigned to fire captains last year were performed by regular firefighters, the agency would have saved nearly $5 million.

Bradshaw not that much of an outlier

While the more than $500,000 in pay and benefits received by Bradshaw in each of the past two years was the most of any OCFA employee, his peers weren’t all that far behind. The chart below displays the average pay and benefits received by full-time, year-round OCFA employees last year:

Classification Average FT Pay + Benefits
Fire Battalion Chief $369,646
Fire Captain $313,529
Fire Apparatus Engineer $260,683
All OCFA Staff $237,876
Firefighter $225,060

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining special districts in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.