$3 million for LA firefighter, as overtime pay soars 110 percent since 2013

Overtime pay at the city of Los Angeles hit an all-time high of $521 million last year, up 13 percent from the year prior and 110 percent since 2013, according to a review of newly released pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

The city’s top OT earner was firefighter Donn Thompson, who collected $363,605 in overtime pay to boost his total cash earnings to $499,731 last year.

Thompson has consistently more than tripled his base salary with overtime pay since 2013, boosting his total earnings over that same time period to nearly $3 million.

Remarkably, Thompson was only the city’s 4th highest paid worker last year. The city’s top three earners were:

  1. Chief Port Pilot John Dwyer, who was paid $522,946.
  2. Chief Port Pilot David Flinn, who was paid $514,264.
  3. Fire Captain Charles Boswell, who was paid $504,380.

Median earnings for full-time, year-round city workers were $111,370 last year, and $159,304 when the cost of employer-paid health and retirement benefits are included.

The median private-sector worker, meanwhile, earned $44,675 in 2018, according to the most recent data available from the US Census Bureau.

$100K+ OT Payouts up 245%

The city’s rapidly escalating overtime pay is also evident on an individual basis, with a record-high 587 city employees collecting overtime pay of $100,000 or more last year, up 245 percent from 2013 and 1,857 percent from 2011:

LA City Overtime Payments

Most OT Goes to Police and Fire

While fire department employees dominated the top of the individual overtime pay list, it was the police department that saw the largest growth in total overtime pay since 2013. The $184 million the police department spent last year in overtime pay was more than seven times the $24 million spent in 2013.

The two departments combined accounted for $394 million, or 76 percent, of the city’s total overtime expenses last year.

Union Rules, Workers’ Comp Main Drivers

While some news reports have suggested without evidence that recent wildfires are to blame for soaring overtime pay at the fire department, the data indicate otherwise for at least two reasons. First, the duration of the trend makes recent events incapable of being its underlying cause. Second, overtime pay increased the most when wildfire activity fell to the lowest level on record.

Instead, soaring overtime pay for police and fire employees is driven primarily by lucrative rules written into union contracts, as well as an incredibly large number of worker’s compensation claims. Such claims require others to fill in for those out on paid leave, thus increasing overtime costs. A 2015 audit revealed that 66 percent of fire department employees filed at least one workers’ comp claim in the past three years, with 33 percent of fire department employees reporting that they were aware of at least one “questionable” claim filed by a colleague.

A current city firefighter speaking on the condition of anonymity to Transparent California earlier this year confirmed that this issue persists, and noted that once an employee is granted paid leave under the workers’ compensation program, there is little if any follow-up to ensure their return in a timely manner.

New Feature: Averages by Job Title

Transparent California has just added a feature that allows users to view the average compensation received by job title. The average city security officer, for example, made $77,670 last year. Employees performing that same job for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, however, made $134,570.

To explore the just-released 2019 dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

For more information, please contact 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, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Categories: 2020, Press Releases

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