New Orleans — Salaried city employees who make more than $100,000 a year would lose their ability to immediately collect emergency overtime under a rule change the Civil Service Commission will consider in the coming weeks.
Currently, those employees, who top the city payroll, are eligible for overtime only during a declared emergency and can earn one-and-a-half times pay during a 40-plus-hour workweek, thanks to a 2010 amendment to overtime rules enacted after the BP oil spill.
That change resulted in several highly paid employees collecting hefty overtime checks — often five figures — during Hurricane Isaac, despite the city being in the middle of a budget process that saw most departments facing cuts between 8 percent and 10 percent.
WVUE-TV reported last month that the city spent $5.1 million on emergency pay and overtime during Isaac, despite its minimal impact on New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s six deputy mayors and the city health director collectively took home more than $100,000 in emergency pay and overtime, the station reported. Each of those employees on average makes more than $150,000 a year and are usually barred from earning overtime.
One proposed change that the Civil Service Commission could vote on in the coming months would make the overtime effective only if an emergency declaration lasts more than two weeks.
While the Civil Service Department staff has recommended changes that would prevent overtime unless that time frame is met, the Landrieu administration has its own ideas for how to change the system.
Speaking during a Civil Service Commission meeting Monday morning, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Courtney Bagneris said the administration proposes capping at 120 hours a day the pay for anyone classified as a deputy director or higher, which, she said, would essentially eliminate the possibility of overtime for those employees.
In a letter to the commission, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin wrote that the most recent changes were designed to compensate employees who did not receive paid time off during emergencies, unlike those who were not required to work. “While public safety personnel have always earned overtime and emergency pay during declared emergencies, many administrative staff worked significant hours following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita without receiving overtime pay or compensation to reflect the fact that they were required to work when many of their colleagues who were not required to come in to work still earned their regular salaries for paid time off,” Kopplin wrote. “During the BP oils spill, administrative employees in the office of homeland security who were required to work extensive overtime hours fighting to protect the city of New Orleans were also ineligible to earn overtime pay because City Hall remained open during the emergency.”
Not affected by Civil Service’s proposed changes would be anyone involved with Police or Fire Department activities who are allowed overtime.
Attorney Raymond Burkart, who represents the Fraternal Order of Police, asked the commission to exclude high-ranking police officials from losing any overtime possibility. “They are out there on the front lines,” he said.
The Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University and the commission chairman, said he has asked the Civil Service staff to examine other cities to see how they handle overtime during emergency declarations. While he said he’d like to see a vote happen in the coming weeks, nothing will be done until the staff turns over a report.
“I want to do this once and do it right,” he said after the meeting.