October 9, 2015

City to defend against comp time claims




Staff Reporter

Following demands Tuesday by a city firefighter union leader to reimburse employees nearly $300,000 in back wages, city officials say the figure, calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor, is incorrect and city officials will present the city’s side at the Oct. 20 Common Council meeting.
During Tuesday’s council meeting Derek Reynolds, president of the Cortland Professional Firefighters Association, presented documents on a Department of Labor investigation into the city’s payment of comp time, or paid time off, to employees he obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA law.
Those documents show the city agreed to pay $295,947 in comp time to 89 city employees by June 23 and had failed to do so by the deadline.
According to the terms of the agreement, partial payments would be made in the form of a check to employees and the remaining debt would be paid in comp time, city officials said.
Mayor Brian Tobin said Thursday he plans to have city Director of Administration and Finance Mack Cook deliver a presentation to the council that he says will show the city has paid its debts, despite claims to the contrary.
“I will address his questions about the $295,000, where the DOL is saying it should be paid back, and our point of view on every single dollar,” Tobin said.
Last year, the Labor Department conducted an investigation into the city, concluding comp time was due to employees of the Youth Bureau as well as the police and fire departments.
The investigation showed three firefighters were allowed to accrue more than the 480 hours of comp time allowed by federal law.
Cook said the city has taken steps to correct the findings,which included paying out about $70,000 to the three firefighters and has since capped the amount of hours firefighters can accumulate.
“Our collective bargaining agreement never had a cap, so what’s happened over the years is people were allowed to accrue more,” Cook said. “We, in fact, did pay off the three firefighters, but we only paid down to the 480 hours.”
Cook said, including what was paid out, the hours remaining in all employees’ comp time reserves was earned and owed and should add up to the labor department’s $295,000 amount.
Tobin said this is why the city is maintaining its position that the city has done what it agreed to do — pay what was owed to employees and bank remaining debt in the form of comp time.
Reynolds countered Thursday he has a completely different interpretation of the Labor Department’s report. He said he thinks the Labor Department figure is not earned comp time in the city’s reserves. Rather, he says, it is the total amount of what should be owed due to erroneous calculations from years before the issue was addressed.
“Our concern isn’t comp time at all,” he said. “The issue is the back wages that are due. Those back wages aren’t for compensated time. Those ... are for hours that have already been worked that weren’t calculated correctly.”
Reynolds said he found from the documents that the probe determined in the past that the city incorrectly calculated earned comp time for employees.
By law, each comp time hour earned should be worth 1.5 times an employee’s hourly wage. According to the investigation report, all hours were calculated at a regular hourly wage.
Reynolds said he views the Labor Department’s figure as the difference between the miscalculations and what was earned, adding if banked comp time reserves have been adjusted accordingly, he has not seen any indication that has happened.
Cook said this morning that since before the investigation, the city has been audited by some of the top auditors in the state every year and not one report has shown any miscalculations concerning banked comp time.
“I have no reason to believe that any financial statement in the past is mistaken,” he said. “To insinuate malfeasance or incompetence in order to backtrack on his (Reynold’s) demand that the city liquidate its comp time bank ... is unwarranted.”
Labor Department representatives on Wednesday declined to comment on the case as it is still open. Tobin said the Labor Department has already made miscalculations of its own.
When the agency originally finished their investigation, the intitial figure was closer to $500,000 until the city pushed back and got the lower $296,000 number, he said.
Tobin said while the city did agree to comply with the Labor Department, the federal agency has disagreed with the city’s interpretation of compliance.
Tobin said calls for clarification by the city have gone unanswered, adding until that happens, the city will maintain its position.
“We’re not just going to roll over and write a check,” Tobin said. “From the city’s stand point, we have complied and the Department of Labor, like any organization, sometimes makes mistakes.”

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