Posted November 18, 2013
The Ontario Provincial Police fraud squad should investigate certain City of Guelph staffers claiming overtime or failing to report for work. The devastating report by Loretta Alonzo, the city’s internal auditor, revealed that $5.067 million will be spent in 2013 in overtime for city employees. That more than twice what similar peer cities pay.
What’s the difference between an employee handling cash that steals the odd $20 bill, or an employee who deliberately plays the system and lines the pockets with taxpayer money? With a projected $5.067 million spent, it is apparent there is little management control in many departments over attendance and claimed overtime.
But then union president Misty Gagne, representing the outside workers of the CUPE local 241, accused management of using overtime to avoid hiring additional full-timer workers. It’s not a surprising reaction because the auditor’s report that almost half the overtime claimed was by members of her local.
Then there is the role of Executive Director Mark Amorosi, whose responsibility as head of human resources is to negotiate union collective agreements, monitor attendance and overtime. In fact two years ago it was reported that staff rate of absence had reached 17 per cent on a given day. Further, the absenteeism seemed to occur on the day before a statutory holiday or following.
The solution came with an investment of $150,000 for software to track staff attendance. That obviously didn’t work out in view of the auditor’s findings. Would it be difficult to require an absent employee to produce a doctor’s letter certifying the legitimacy of an illness claim?
The internal auditor pointed out that in some departments in which an employee booked off and another employee was called in, at time and a half, to cover the absent employee. The artful use of sick days, standby days and rollover of unused sick and vacation days also contributed to the overtime bill.
This was sickenly prevalent, according to the auditor’s report, in Guelph Transit where absenteeism could reach up to 25 per cent at a given time. That meant that other employees cashed in, covering for the missing parts. Organized Guelph Transit workers racked up some $1 million in overtime so far this year.
Yet Ms. Gagne denies there is no culture of entitlement with her members. “Our culture is to provide great public services and that’s what we do.” Remarks like that only echo the union talking points and exacerbate the problem.
Who are the victims here? It’s you and me and some excellent and responsible city employees who play by the rules and don’t abuse the system.
The Chief Administration Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, has stated that all overtime is frozen until the end of the year. That’s a band-aid but at least sends a signal. Overtime is necessary due to the varied operations of the city. If overtime is banned, what happens when the city gets hit with a major snowstorm this winter?
The auditor is shooting for an overtime reduction by 2015 of 2.5 per cent of base staff salaries and wages. That’s less than half of overtime costs in 2013. She knows you cannot change a culture that created this mess over the years in a year’s time.
So it’s disheartening to read the CAO’s statement that the city will save $3 million in overtime in 2014. She is naive to say that, as this culture of overtime entitlement predictably cannot be eliminated in 365 days.
The first task is getting the managers on board with a consistent, staff-wide system of creating and enforcing overtime protocols. The CAO has indicated that is a priority over the next 90 days. Overtime must be authorized before the fact, not after.
Perhaps it is time to dig deeper into this abuse of overtime and ask the OPP to investigate what may be fraudulent practices by some employees.
Even the thought that might happen would put a damper on playing the system. It could also be cathartic to get rid of the old ways, sloppy management practices and make everybody honest.
There is a meeting of the audit committee Tuesday, November 19 at city hall to receive and discuss this report.
It will be in everyone’s interest to attend. The meeting starts at 3:30 p.m. in the city hall council chambers.