Workers get OT on their off days COOK COUNTY | Highway Dept. practice draws Quigley's ire
Thursday, January 08, 2009
by Mark J. Konkol
Last winter, Cook County Highway Department maintenance employees
called in sick, took vacation or put in for paid time off on the same
days they earned overtime compensation, a Chicago Sun-Times review of
payroll records shows.
On Feb. 1, for instance, three
employees at the LaGrange Park garage worked seven hours overtime and
also were paid sick or vacation time for their regular shift. Each of
those workers was compensated for 18.5 hours that day.
timekeeping issues occurred on at least 17 workdays in January and
February last year. In fact, highway workers responding to snow and ice
emergencies almost always got paid for their entire scheduled shift
whether they worked or not, time sheets and overtime reports show.
And because most employees receive "time off overtime" hours rather
than cash, some workers accumulated enough so-called "TOOT" to get paid
for staying home during much of July and August, records show.
After it was brought to his attention by the Sun-Times, county
Highway Supt. Rupert Graham Jr. said he's not sure if workers should be
allowed to take paid time off on a day they also work overtime, but he
would review the policy.
That's not good enough for county Commissioner Mike Quigley, who
called for changing the timekeeping practice. "It doesn't pass the
sniff test. A typical person in the private sector would never be
allowed to do that. Whether or not it's OK with Graham, it's not OK
with the public, and it shouldn't be," Quigley said. "It's a
self-induced pay increase. This is a problem on its face."
Graham said his department's top priority is keeping county roads
safe when a snow or ice emergency hits. Road crews and supervisors are
not allowed to take vacation in the winter and must be available 24
hours a day. During a harsh winter, crews sometimes work more than 16
hours a day several days in a row and often get "burned out," he said.
Quigley argues that employees shouldn't be paid for taking off their
scheduled shift when they work different hours the same day.
"If we need people to work in an emergency, let them work," he said.
"But you don't have a sick day combined with it so it's more overtime."
Because highway workers accumulate so much TOOT during the winter, there are fewer employees to get roadwork done in the summer.
For instance, road supervisor John Macchitelli took 21 days off and
got paid to leave work early seven more times in July and August. Bloom
Township Democratic Committeeman Terry Matthews -- an administrative
assistant who supervises snow crews -- took 21 days off during the same
Macchitelli and Matthews were among those who took paid time off during their regular shift and worked overtime on the same day.
Macchitelli said he has accumulated 95 sick days and 700 hours of
TOOT. He said highway crews are "short and stretched thin a bit" during
the winter months.
"How do you expect a guy to be on call 24 hours a day and not get
any time off?" he said. "You can't just sit at home and wait for a
call; that won't work. If you want to alleviate all these problems, pay
Matthews, who also is a village trustee in South Chicago Heights, declined comment.
The practice of accumulating TOOT can be lucrative. Some highway
workers have collected so much TOOT, they take home huge payouts when
they retire. For instance, if a $70,000-a-year supervisor were to cash
out 700 hours at retirement, he would get about $23,500.
Graham said the timekeeping policies were in place before he took
the superintendent post. It forces him to prioritize, and snow and ice
removal take priority for safety reasons, he said.
"I don't think it's a policy question, I think it's a financial
resource question," he said. "If there was more money in the budget for
overtime, things could be done differently."