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.

CalPERS sued for withholding complete pension data

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is unlawfully withholding information necessary to help safeguard the system from waste, fraud and abuse, a just-filed lawsuit alleges.

The problem of disability fraud has plagued California’s public pension systems for decades, costing taxpayers untold millions.

One of the first documented cases occurred in 1992, when a retired officer drawing a tax-free disability pension was spotted competing in a local rodeo.

As discussed in more detail below, historically lax oversight encouraged such abuses, which continue to this day.

Earlier this year, for example, the Los Angeles Times reported on an allegedly disabled firefighter who had competed in a half-marathon. The Times report ultimately led to an arrest and calls for reform from city councilmembers.

To its credit, and likely in recognition of the fact that the problem extends beyond just those who compete in athletic competitions while on disability, CalPERS encourages the public to report cases of suspected fraud and abuse to its disability fraud tip line.

Yet the fund, which manages over $300 billion in assets and receives nearly $20 billion annually from California taxpayers and public employees, has inexplicably refused to disclose the very information necessary to identify such cases of potential abuse.

Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) has filed a public records lawsuit against CalPERS to obtain this information for its Transparent California website — the state’s largest and most comprehensive public pay and pension database.

Specifically, Transparent California requested the one-word designation of either “regular” or “disability” that would identify the type of pension received by retirees, so that the public could better assist CalPERS in its efforts to identify cases of disability fraud.

Despite the law’s presumption of openness, and binding case law precedent requiring disclosure of the requested information, CalPERS denied the request by citing a statute that makes confidential employees’ personnel and medical files.

“It’s highly unlikely CalPERS actually believes providing the one-word designation of the type of benefit received by its members is equivalent to providing a copy of their medical records, which is properly exempt from disclosure,” said Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“Instead, CalPERS is exploiting the lack of any penalties for governments who unlawfully withhold public records, secure in the knowledge that taxpayers will be the ones required to pay all legal fees incurred.

“Sadly, the lack of teeth in California’s Public Records Act has effectively negated the presumption of openness enshrined in state law. The Legislature must amend the law so that those who violate it are held personally liable, just like any other citizen would be.”

Abuses previously uncovered

Public pension disability fraud in California has been an issue since at least 1992, when investigators uncovered an officer who was drawing a tax-free disability benefit competing in a local rodeo. Further investigation revealed the retired officer had won gold and silver medals in a Police Olympics swim competition the very month she filed for disability, according to an Associated Press report.

In 2005, the Sacramento Bee exposed widespread fraud at the California Highway Patrol Department, where over 80 percent of retiring chiefs would claim injury within 2 years of retirement. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a task force to investigate the Bee’s findings, which culminated in multiple arrests.

More recently, the Los Angeles Times uncovered abuses taking place in the city pension fund, like a firefighter who competed in a half-marathon while claiming disability for an injured knee. At least one retired officer has since been arrested on suspicion of disability fraud since the Times published their findings earlier this year.

“These types of abuses are naturally much easier to detect when the pension fund distinguishes disability benefits from a regular pension,” Fellner said.

“In addition to both the city and county fund of Los Angeles, nearly two dozen of California’s independent pension funds do disclose this information, further undercutting CalPERS arguments for secrecy.”

As indicated above, CalPERS itself recognizes the importance of the public’s assistance in identifying cases of disability fraud, and encourages the public to report suspected cases of fraud to its disability fraud tip line.

“Refusing to disclose benefit type prevents the public from providing the very oversight CalPERS claims is essential in order to safeguard against waste, fraud and abuse,” Fellner said.

CalPERS refusal to identify benefit type on the grounds of confidentiality is even more perplexing, given the vastly more comprehensive and invasive information disclosed by the agency elsewhere.

“It’s hard to imagine a coherent legal standard that shields benefit type, while simultaneously making public the vastly more comprehensive information found in CalPERS own public hearings and state Workers’ Compensation reports,” Fellner said.

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.

 

1,237% increase in promised pensions dwarfs San Diego’s economic growth, taxpayers’ ability to pay

The total pension benefits promised by the San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association (SDCERA) increased 1,237 percent from 1986-2016 — an amount which is over 300 percentage points more than the increase found at CalPERS over that same time period.

After tracking fairly closely with the other economic indicators from 1986-2000, the size of promised pension benefits exploded after 2002, as shown in the chart below:

SDCERA1200

This sudden growth reflects a dramatic benefit enhancement approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 2002.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner blames a broken governance model as the key factor behind such recklessness:

The 2002 enhancement was approved, in significant part, because U.S. state and local pension plans like SDCERA employ accounting methods designed to hide the true cost of the promised benefits — despite such methods being outlawed in the private sector and rejected by public pension plans in over 100 countries worldwide.

This scheme incentivizes politicians to over-promise benefits on the backs of future taxpayers — as they are immediately rewarded for doing so, yet immune from accountability when the costs show up several years later.

This also explains why such lavish pension benefits are only found in the public sector. Academic studies have shown that workers vastly prefer higher salaries to higher future pension benefits. The costs of higher salaries, however, are immediate, transparent and easily understood by all.

The costs of pensions, by contrast, are inherently opaque, which makes it a uniquely effective way to covertly enhance public workers’ compensation.

The below chart reflects the cumulative growth in SDCERA’s promised pension benefits (accrued liabilities) alongside a variety of San Diego County economic metrics:

San Diego County Indicators Growth from 1986-2016
Promised Pension Benefits 1237%
Personal Income 372%
Median Household Income 173%
Inflation 142%
Population 51%

Data sources:

  • Promised pension benefits reflects the growth in accrued liabilities, as reported by the San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association (SDCERA).
  • San Diego County personal income “is the income that is received by all persons from all sources,” calculated and reported by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • Median Household Income data was provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Excel Trend function was used to fill in years in which data was unavailable.
  • Inflation is derived by calculating the growth in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: All items in the San Diego-Carlsbad, CA region.
  • Population data was provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

 


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 themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Nearly 900% increase in CalPERS benefits dwarfs economic growth, taxpayers’ ability to pay

The total pension benefits promised by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) increased 886 percent from 1987-2016 — a rate 21 times greater than the cumulative increase in the state’s population, according to a just-released analysis from Transparent California.

The growth in promised CalPERS benefits dwarfs the rate found in a variety of other economic metrics, as shown below:

CalPERSGrowth4

Transparent California credits Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner of Wirepoints as the source of inspiration for this chart and analysis. In Illinois state pensions: Overpromised, not underfunded — Wirepoints Special Report, Dabrowski and Klingner irrefutably demonstrate that the true source of Illinois’ pension crisis is the explosive growth in promised benefits, not a lack of funding.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner believes the same applies to California.

“Some politicians and government unions have claimed that last decade’s market downturn is the cause of California’s pension crisis. As this data makes clear, the real cause is the tremendous growth in the size of the benefits that were promised.”

The below chart reflects the cumulative growth in promised CalPERS pension benefits (accrued liabilities) alongside a variety of California economic metrics:

California Economic Metrics Growth from 1987-2016
Promised CalPERS pension benefits 886%
Total Personal Income 331%
Total State Tax Collections 311%
Median Household Income 121%
Inflation 119%
Population 41%

Fellner observed that blaming the inevitable market downturn as the source of CalPERS funding woes is analogous to a gambler citing a bad run at the blackjack table for having less-than-anticipated funds:

“Elected officials’ willingness to take on such massive debt, not the fact that the stock market sometimes goes down, is the root cause of California’s pension crisis.”

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 themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Oakland engineer and police officer again earn a combined $1 million, as superhuman OT continues

Today, Transparent California — California’s largest public pay database — released previously unseen 2017 pay data for the City of Oakland.

Fourteen Oakland city employees received over $400,000 apiece in pay and benefits last year — more than double the 6 employees who received that much in the preceding year.

Topping the list once again was police officer Malcolm Miller, whose $113,158 regular salary was more than quadrupled to $494,384 after specialty pays, overtime pay and benefits are accounted for.

Thanks to continually receiving overtime pay that more than doubled his base salary, Miller has been the city’s top earner every year since 2013, with the exception of 2015 when he was the city’s 2nd highest compensated employee.

Such continuously extreme amounts of overtime pay for a police officer — and the number of hours worked it suggests — is troubling, according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“The data indicate this one police officer has been working roughly two times the regular hours for years on end. This is a recipe for disaster given the life-or-death situations police officers routinely encounter.”

Civil engineer Kenny Lau was Oakland’s 2nd highest compensated worker last year, with $480,562 in pay and benefits — most of which came from an agency-high $283,514 overtime payout.

107-hour average workweek

Like Miller, Lau has consistently received overtime pay in excess of his regular salary since at least 2013.

In 2016, Lau’s time cards showed that he worked all 366 days of the leap year, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report.

Lau’s $283,000 overtime pay in 2017 suggests a similarly intense workload, equating to an average 107 hours worked for all 52 weeks of the year.

After Miller and Lau, the next 3 highest compensated Oakland city workers were:

  1. Police lieutenant Trevelyon Jones, who received $462,370 in pay and benefits.
  2. Police lieutenant Sean Fleming, who received $435,695 in pay and benefits.
  3. Fire engineer Preetpal Dhaliwal, who received $433,054 in pay and benefits.

Average wages up over 20% since 2013

The average full-year city worker collected $114,620 in wages last year, a 21 percent increase from 2013. When benefits are included, that value rises to $167,363 — which represents a 26.5 percent increase from 2013.

Total city-wide spending on employee compensation was up 33 percent over that same time period, hitting an all-time high of $578 million last year.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows a less than 5 percent increase in median earnings for Oakland private-workers from 2013 ($48,610) to 2016 ($50,893) — the most recent year for which data was available.

The disparity in rate of growth between wages in the private sector and Oakland city hall is a troubling trend, according to Fellner.

“The ultimate ability to fund government pay packages rests with the taxpayers. If pay at Oakland city hall continues to outpace the growth of wages in the private sector, there may reach a point when taxpayers are unable to meet such a burden.”

To explore the entire 2017 Oakland payroll report in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties 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 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.

How one LA firefighter turned a $90,000 salary into $1.6 million over the past four years

Overtime pay that was at least triple his regular salary in each of the past four years allowed Los Angeles firefighter Donn Thompson to collect a combined $1.67 million in total earnings from 2014-2017 — according to an analysis of newly released pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Such outsized overtime pay allowed Thompson to clear over $400,000 in cash earnings for each of the past four years — despite drawing a regular salary that ranged between $86,000 and $92,000.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner said Thompson’s ability to collect such enormous amounts of overtime pay is without peer among the more than 2.5 million government workers surveyed statewide.

“Collecting overtime pay that is triple your regular salary in just a single year is basically a one-in-a-million feat. Thompson’s ability to do so over four consecutive years is without peer and, quite frankly, boggles the mind.”

Thompson has been among the city’s top overtime earners for decades, as reflected by a 1996 Los Angeles Times report that cited him as an example of LAFD’s “paycheck generosity.”

More recently, Thompson was among the trio of Los Angeles firefighters featured in the Transparent California report LA firefighter trio earns nearly $1 million in OT pay (again) — which found that Thompson and his 2 colleagues received the largest overtime payments of the nearly 2.5 million government workers surveyed statewide, in both 2015 and 2016.

The just-released 2017 pay data reveals that those same three firefighters are once again atop the city’s list for highest overtime pay, but with Thompson coming out on top this time:

Los Angeles City’s top 3 overtime earners (2017)

  1. Firefighter III Donn Thompson, who received $306,405 in OT for total earnings of $437,341.
  2. Fire Captain II Charles Ferrari, who received $284,882 in OT for total earnings of: $443,437.
  3. Fire Captain I James Vlach, who received $280,182 in OT for total earnings of $431,518.

While department spokesmen have responded to previous years’ reports by indicating that the dramatic rise in overtime was an anomaly that would likely taper off in future years, the data show just the opposite.

Last year, 512 Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees received over $100,000 apiece in overtime pay, which represents a tenfold increase from the 51 who earned that much in 2012.

26 LAFD employees received over $200,000 apiece in overtime pay, with average total earnings of $383,401.

Total department wide spending on overtime pay has also increased dramatically, with the $198 million spent on overtime last year representing a 74 percent increase from the $114 million spent in 2012.

The data also indicate that the total number of firefighters has remained relatively flat over the past 5 years, with the 2,066 firefighters listed on the 2017 payroll report representing a 3 percent increase from 2012.

As discussed in more detail in last year’s report, overtime pay at LAFD is significantly above the levels found at many of its peer departments nationwide.

Los Angeles County

A similar narrative played out at the county, where an agency-high $322,677 overtime payout boosted Los Angeles County Fire Captain Sergio Burciaga’s total compensation to $518,998.

The next 4 county employees who received the largest overtime pay were:

  1. Battalion Chief Thomas Ray: $283,529 in OT and $602,627 in total pay and benefits.
  2. Fire Captain Timothy Bauer: $275,560 in OT and $489,713 in total pay and benefits.
  3. Battalion Chief Dennis Breshears: $272,511 in OT and $580,216 in total pay and benefits.
  4. Fire Captain Richard Mullen: $263,501 in OT and $477,816 in total pay and benefits.

Like the city department, the county fire department also saw a tenfold increase in the number of $100,000-plus overtime payouts, which rose from 60 in 2012 to 645 last year.

Total overtime spending at the county fire department rose 52 percent over that same time period, reaching an all-time high of $212 million last year.

The dramatic rise in overtime spending occurred despite an increase in the number of county firefighters, according to the data. In 2017, the county spent $319 million on base salaries for its 2,992 firefighters — a 14 percent increase from the $280 million spent for the 2,866 county firefighters listed on the 2012 payroll report.

Six-figure leave time payouts

County employees can also boost their regular earning by cashing in unused leave. Last year, 209 employees received over $100,000 each in unused leave payouts, with twelve employees receiving payouts in excess of $250,000. The top 3 leave time payouts went to:

  1. Former Chief Public Defender Ronald Brown, who received a $358,572 leave time payout.
  2. Former Sheriff Captain Douglas Fetteroll, who received a $315,474 leave time payout.
  3. Former Sheriff Lieutenant David Smith, who received a $288,950 leave time payout.

Total county employee compensation hit an all-time high of nearly $12 billion — up nearly 31 percent from 2012.

To explore the entire 2017 Los Angeles County payroll report in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties 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 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.

San Jose payroll tops $1 billion, as city manager collects $610,000 in pay and benefits

Total employee compensation for San Jose city workers hit a record-high $1 billion last year, according to newly released 2017 pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

More so than nearly any other California city, rising pension costs continue to account for an outsized percentage of San Jose’s employee compensation.

While the average, full-year San Jose employee received $116,008 in wages last year, that number rises to $198,060 when the cost of employer-paid health and retirement benefits are included.

Similarly, San Jose City Manager Norberto Duenas’s $610,752 compensation package reflects $372,261 in wages, with the employer-cost of benefits accounting for the remaining $238,490.

Overtime up 150% over past 5 years

As rising pension costs forced a reduction in staffing levels, San Jose has become increasingly reliant on overtime pay. Last year, San Jose spent a record-high $71 million on overtime pay — which is a 150 percent increase from the $28.5 million spent in 2012.

San Jose Police Officer Bach Tran’s $273,498 overtime payout was the highest of any city worker, and boosted his total compensation to $548,778.

The next four largest overtime payments went to:

  1. Police Officer Jose Uribe, who received $250,000 in OT and $515,975 in total pay and benefits.
  2. Police Officer Hector Vasquez, who received $244,135 in OT and $519,415 in total pay and benefits.
  3. Police Sergeant Domingo Sanchez, who received $223,638 in OT and $548,220 in total pay and benefits.
  4. Police Officer Linh Luu, who received $215,838 in OT and $488,171 in total pay and benefits.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner believes the San Jose experience highlights the need for fundamental pension reform statewide.

“As the experience of San Jose has shown, soaring pension costs can wreak havoc on local municipalities. Despite significant staffing cuts, costs still continue to rise and the remaining public safety officers are now burdened with the excessive overtime necessary to pick up the slack. Policymakers need to fix California’s pension crisis before similar scenarios play out at other cities and counties across the state.”

To view the complete 2017 San Jose payroll report, please click here.

 

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties 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 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.