UPDATED 2/17/11 12 a.m.

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series about the use of overtime at the Hawaii Department of Public Safety. Civil Beat requested a list of overtime hours taken by each department employee in the 2009 and 2010 budget years. We published this series in December based on the information we received. In subsequent conversations with the department, we learned the document we were given lists hours paid. Employees were paid time-and-a-half for overtime. The stories have been updated to reflect that fact:

Hawaii taxpayers paid out $19 million in overtime to employees at the Hawaii Department of Public Safety over the last two fiscal years, a Civil Beat investigation found.

Records obtained by Civil Beat under the state open records law show a department rife with unusually large overtime claims:

  • 16 employees claimed more than 1,000 hours of overtime.
  • Six employees logged more than 1,300 hours of overtime in a single year.
  • A clerical supervisor in the sheriff’s division claimed 1,689 hours of overtime in a single year — the equivalent of 42 regular work weeks.
  • A prison cook claimed so much overtime he earned a $78,965 salary.
  • When faced with a reduced OT budget in 2010, the department cut visitation programs instead.

The large overtime claims are noteworthy in part because of the nature of the department’s work — its employees manage Hawaii’s prisons system and provide law enforcement at public facilities.

Corrections officers and sheriffs are often placed in high-stress situations, charged with the safety of jails that never close and court houses and airports where alertness is key. Some of the individuals earning high overtime are authorized to carry firearms and are responsible for administering medical care.

‘Our Hands are Tied’

Department officials said in an interview that they’re aware of the high overtime claims, but attributed the problem to high turnover and a unionized work force.

“When you understand our department and understand the union contract, you’ll see that the administration’s hands are tied,” said May Andrade, a 30-year veteran of the department who retired last month before the new governor’s administration took over.

Andrade served in the corrections division of the Department of Public Safety, including as chief of security and most recently as executive assistant to former director Clayton Frank, who retired at the end of November.

“The administrators try to juggle shifts around and exhaust all options before triggering overtime,” Andrade said.

The United Public Workers union represents the majority of Department of Public Safety employees. Dayton Nakanelua, the union’s state director, did not return Civil Beat’s calls or e-mails seeking comment for this story. He was not available to meet on two visits to his office.

Large overtime claims appear to be a systemic issue at the department. Ten years ago, a report by State Auditor Marion Higa noted “highly unusual overtime compensation levels” and “unusual patterns of sick leave.”

The department oversees four jails on the Big Island, Kauai, Maui and Oahu, and three prisons, all located on Oahu. It also manages Hawaii inmates housed in mainland facilities. Its law enforcement branch includes a sheriff division and narcotics enforcement division.

To be sure, the majority of the department’s 2,200 employees took some overtime. But a small group of them claimed the lion’s share of hours.

Number of High Overtime Earners

Budget year Employees paid for more
than 667 overtime hours
Employees paid for more
than 1,334 overtime hours
2009 68 5
2010 25 0

A Civil Beat analysis found that all but 10 of the 68 workers who were paid for more than 667 overtime hours in 2009 were adult corrections officers and deputy sheriffs. Adult corrections officers make up about 60 percent of the department’s staff.

Other high overtime earners included registered nurses, clinical psychologists, social workers, cooks and kitchen helpers.

To put the overtime hours in perspective, state employees are paid for a 40-hour week — 52 weeks a year — or a total of 2,080 hours. They are also entitled to 13 paid holidays, 21 vacation days and 21 days of sick leave a year.

Civil Beat is not naming the employees at this time because the focus of this investigation is state oversight of overtime, not the authorized actions of individuals.

Our review shows a department rife with outsized overtime claims, especially during the 2009 budget year:

  • A clerical supervisor claimed 1,689 hours of overtime, more than doubling her annual base salary, which the state reported as between $30,036 and $46,176. At a minimum, she earned $36,585 in overtime, more than doubling her base salary.
  • A deputy sheriff was paid for 1,636 hours of overtime in budget year 2009, adding as much as $68,948 in overtime to his base pay of between $37,968 and $58,440.
  • A corrections officer at the Women’s Community Corrections Center prison claimed 1,337 hours of overtime, or the equivalent of at least $39,570 in overtime on top of her base pay of between $41,040 and $50,148. At the lowest end of her pay scale, she would have earned an annual salary of at least $80,610.

  • A nurse working at Halawa Clinical Services claimed 1,639 overtime hours, adding between $44,891 and $59,273 to a base salary of between $37,980 and $50,148, bringing her annual pay to between $82,871 and $109,421.

Overtime claims during the 2010 budget year appeared to tail off, but only slightly:

  • A cook in the department’s Halawa Food Services Section claimed 1,246 hours of overtime, adding $37,373 to his base salary of $41,592. His total salary was $78,965.
  • The same Halawa nurse who claimed more than 2,450 overtime hours in 2009 claimed 1,708 hours in budget year 2010.

One labor expert says it’s not uncommon to see public safety workers earning a lot of overtime.

Marick Masters, director of Labor@Wayne at Wayne State University in Michigan, said that prisons across the country face staffing challenges. Labor@Wayne oversees the university’s labor studies degree programs, and the university’s Labor Studies Center and Center for Workplace Issues.

“In general, it seems high overtime is earned by people who do any kind of public safety, public security — a lot of fire fighters, police officers, correctional officers.”

High OT Claims Continued Despite Budget Cuts

Overtime costs represented about 7 percent to 10 percent of the department’s payroll budget the past two years. Payroll in turn represented 45 percent of the department’s $241.4 million budget in fiscal 2010.

In fiscal 2009, the Department of Public Safety paid 1,703 employees a total of $10.96 million for 490,240 hours of overtime. Sixty-eight of those employees worked at least 667 hours of overtime, with the highest earner logging 1,689 hours of overtime.

In fiscal 2010, the Legislature slashed the department’s overtime budget by $2 million. Despite that, the department still paid 1,667 employees a total of $7.77 million for 335,560 hours of overtime. Twenty-five of those employees worked at least 1,000 hours of overtime each, with the highest earner logging 1,869 hours of overtime.

Budget year Total operating budget Payroll costs OT costs Percentage of Payroll
2010 $241.4 million $109.2 million $7.77 million 7 percent
2009 $248.3 million $109 million $10.96 million 10 percent

Overtime Budget Cuts Curtail Visitation

David Festerling, former deputy director for Department of Public Safety’s administration division, said the cuts to the department’s overtime budget forced it to cut inmates’ programs — including visitation — because they couldn’t be staffed.

“Programs — ones that aren’t mandated, but that the inmates should have offered to them, like the library, visits, educational programs — were cut as a result,” Festerling said. “When we’re short-staffed, these programs can’t be manned, so the inmates either were locked up or had to watch TV. We’re trying our best to maneuver employees around to cover shifts.”

How Much is Too Much Overtime?

Asked about concerns over the job performance of employees working such high amounts of overtime, the department said its supervisors ensure that workers aren’t overworked.

“Because of the types of jobs we have, employees always have supervisors watching out for the staff,” Festerling said. “If performance is not up to par, they’ll send that individual home right then and there. I don’t think there have been any problems.”

He later said the department has “run into some problems” at its smaller neighbor island facilities, such as at the Maui Community Correctional Center, where the pool of workers to cover shifts is smaller. “Individuals will get burnt out,” Festerling said, “but the supervisors and administrators are monitoring them and safety is always a priority.”

State Auditor Has Scrutinized OT in Past

The department’s spending on overtime has been scrutinized in the past, including by the state auditor in a 2002 report [pdf].

State Auditor Marion Higa wrote:

“We found deficiencies in the financial accounting and internal control practices of the department. The department continues to experience unusual patterns of sick leave and overtime costs are significant. During the fiscal year under audit, an average of 27 sick leave days was taken for all uniformed staff. This is significantly higher than the average of ten days for all state employees.”

“During FY2000-01, the facilities incurred about $7 million in overtime costs, nearly 13 percent of facility salaries and wages. In our sample of 25 (adult corrections officers) and medical and food service staff with highly unusual overtime compensation levels, approximately 40 percent of their total compensation was related to overtime or about $22,000 of overtime pay per employee. Some employees were paid more for overtime than for their regular salaries and wages.”

At that time, the auditor’s office had suggested the department “implement a more stringent policy for determining unusual patterns of sick leave abuse subject to investigation.”

Coming Tuesday: Read the second part of our series about efforts to stop sick leave abuse at the the Department of Public Safety.

Randy Ching contributed to this story.

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