State’s over­time costs soar

Va­cant prison guard jobs help push tab to $64.5 mil­lion, a 10-year high

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­SON STEIN and KEVIN CROWE jstein@jour­nalsen­

Madi­son — The over­time paid to state work­ers rose by 12% last year to a level not seen for at least a decade, a Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel analysis has found.

The sharp in­crease in over­time wages sug­gests that Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 re­peal of most col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing is no longer hold­ing down those costs the way it did sev­eral years ago.

The state paid $64.5 mil­lion in over­time in 2015 to correction­s, health and other state work­ers, up nearly one-third from a low of $49.4 mil­lion in 2012.

Sean Da­ley, a long­time prison work­ers rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Coun­cil 32 of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees, isn’t sur­prised. He said many of­fi­cers are now be­ing re­quired to work back-to-back shifts, or 16 hours in all, for two or more times in a week.

“I’ve never seen it to this mag­ni­tude,” Da­ley said of the over­time.

The Walker ad­min­is­tra­tion said the sav­ings from Act 10 and the gover­nor’s over­all poli­cies dwarf these over­time bills, hav­ing held down state and lo­cal govern­ment costs by bil­lions of dol­lars over­all since 2011. Over­time rose in 2015 from a range of fac­tors, from turnover within the prison sys­tem and other agen­cies hit­ting its high­est level in at least a decade to oth­ers out­side of state con­trol, such as for­est fires and in­ves­ti­ga­tions of shoot­ings by po­lice.

To re­cruit more prison work­ers, the Walker ad­min­is­tra­tion in Fe­bru­ary brought in a well-re­garded agency vet­eran, Jon Litscher, as correction­s sec­re­tary and in May rolled out a $10 mil­lion-a-year plan to raise wages by 80 cents an hour for thou­sands of correction­s of­fi­cers, with some of them tem­po­rar­ily re­ceiv­ing more than that.

These lat­est over­time fig­ures un­der­line the ur­gen-

cy for the state to fill the hun­dreds of va­cant prison po­si­tions. By an­a­lyz­ing state pay­roll data re­leased through the open records law, the Jour­nal Sen­tinel found:

With­out ad­just­ing for the lim­ited raises of state work­ers, over­time last year hit its high­est level since at least 2006, when tax­pay­ers paid $60.2 mil­lion to state work­ers who put in more than their 40 hours per week.

The De­part­ment of Correction­s ac­counted for the bulk of the in­crease in over­time across state govern­ment last year. Wis­con­sin’s prison sys­tem paid out $39.9 mil­lion in over­time wages, up $4.7 mil­lion, or 13.4%, from the pre­vi­ous year.

The over­time still amounts to just a frac­tion of the agency’s more than $1 bil­lion a year bud­get.

The De­part­ment of Health Ser­vices, which runs its own se­cure psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tions, saw its over­time expenses rise by $589,000, or 6.3%, to $10 mil­lion. The De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, which op­er­ates nurs­ing homes for elderly vet­er­ans among its other pro­grams, saw an even larger in­crease of $607,000, or 37%, to $2.3 mil­lion.

Over­time can be one tool for state lead­ers to keep over­all staffing lev­els low and avoid mak­ing tax­pay­ers pay for health and pension ben­e­fits for new em­ploy­ees. But chron­i­cally un­der­staffed in­sti­tu­tions can lead to other costs for the state, such as hav­ing to pick up mileage and ho­tels for guards to travel from one prison to an­other to pick up empty shifts.

Correction­s spokesman Tris­tan Cook said about 60% of the over­time paid to front­line prison staff comes from cov­er­ing for sick days and va­cant jobs. When that hap­pens, war­dens don’t have the op­tion of leav­ing key prison shifts un­filled, Cook said.

As the na­tional econ­omy im­proves, Wis­con­sin has found it harder to re­cruit and re­tain work­ers.

Union lead­ers have ar­gued that stag­nant wages and changes to union rules have made state govern­ment a less at­trac­tive em­ployer to its work­force. State of­fi­cials say the prob­lems here aren’t un­usual and that they’re seek­ing more in­put from their work­force.

“State de­part­ments of correction­s across the coun­try have ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fi­culty re­cruit­ing cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers,” Cook said. “Sec­re­tary Litscher has vis­ited a num­ber of DOC cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing ev­ery max­i­mum-se­cu­rity and medi­um­se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity, to hear di­rectly from front-line staff and in­sti­tu­tion man­agers as part of a de­part­men­twide push to in­crease open lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween staff and man­age­ment.”

Cook said only a small por­tion of the over­time, no more than a few per­cent­age points, was due to on­go­ing mis­con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions of correction­s of­fi­cers. Be­tween Jan­uary 2014 and Fe­bru­ary 2016, the state put nearly 400 correction­s of­fi­cers and other staff on paid leave for an aver­age of 54 days while agency of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gated al­le­ga­tions against them.

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Al­louez) said he’s pleased that Litscher and the Walker ad­min­is­tra­tion are mak­ing ef­forts to hire more prison work­ers at fa­cil­i­ties in his area such as Green Bay Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion. Over­time, he said, takes a toll on both tax­pay­ers and prison em­ploy­ees.

“This ex­ces­sive over­time is un­de­sir­able, es­pe­cially as it ap­plies to correction­s,” Cowles said.

State over­time jumped amid the la­bor protests and law en­force­ment de­mands of 2011 and then fell the next year as Act 10 took ef­fect and ush­ered in new work rules.

Be­fore 2011, for in­stance, work­ers who called in sick for a shift and then worked the im­me­di­ate next shift were paid one shift at their reg­u­lar pay and the other at time and a half. In 2008, the Jour­nal Sen­tinel pub­lished an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that showed some prison guards had boosted their in­come by work­ing the sys­tem this way.

For the past five years, both shifts are paid at straight time; work­ers don’t get over­time un­less they ac­tu­ally work extra hours.

But over­time has risen since 2012 along with em­ployee


Other agen­cies that saw higher over­time in 2015 in­clude the De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and the De­part­ment of Jus­tice, with over­time at the lat­ter in­creas­ing more than ten­fold be­tween 2006 and 2015, to $1.2 mil­lion.

Walker ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman Steven Michels and Jus­tice spokesman Johnny Kore­menos said those in­creases were due to sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing an in­crease in for­est fires and the trans­fer of ex­ist­ing staff who work on crim­i­nal jus­tice is­sues from the De­part­ment of Ad­min­is­tra­tion to the De­part­ment of Jus­tice. De­tec­tives in the Jus­tice De­part­ment also have played a huge rule in re­view­ing shoot­ings by po­lice of­fi­cers un­der a law signed by Walker in 2014 that re­quires an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion in such cases.

Michels said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing steps to man­age over­time across state agen­cies, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion signed by Walker in Fe­bru­ary over­haul­ing the process the state uses to fill civil ser­vice jobs.

“The leg­is­la­tion will ex­pe­dite the hir­ing process, re­ward out­stand­ing per­for­mance and cre­ate con­sis­tent and clear rules to be fol­lowed across state govern­ment. New tech­nol­ogy and re­cruit­ing strate­gies are be­ing de­vel­oped and we ex­pect to launch a new hir­ing web­site and mo­bile in­ter­face in March 2017,” Michels said.

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