Overtime cap a mere formality for San Francisco city workers 

In just six months, a Muni station agent has racked up more than 1,000 hours of overtime — the equivalent of 125 extra eight-hour work days — to the tune of about $53,700. A firefighter clocked 936 hours in overtime for about $56,000, and a deputy sheriff pulled down approximately $41,520 for 994 hours worked.

Under city rules, overtime hours are capped at 624 a year per worker. But 74 employees have blown through the overtime cap during the first six months of the fiscal year by obtaining waivers upon request, and the trend is increasing.

According to a city controller’s report, there were only 48 waivers during the same period last year.

Forty-eight of the workers who have so far exceeded the cap this fiscal year are employed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority. Twenty-three are with the Fire Department and three are with the Sheriff’s Department.

The rise in waivers letting workers exceed the cap is contributing to The City going over its overtime budget by nearly $40 million this year. Overtime spending is expected to increase by $12 million compared with last year’s $130 million.   

City departments defend this use of overtime as a way to staff key posts when operating with a reduced staff due to budget constraints. They also say it is less expensive than hiring new workers.

Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said the department has had more retirements than projected, has not hired replacements, and still has to meet minimum staffing requirements.

“Overtime has increased as there are less members working, while we have regular salary savings with less people on staff,” Talmadge said. “The Department closely monitors employees’ time with regard to the overtime cap.”

In 2008, amid years of budget shortfalls and increasing overtime costs, where employees were pulling down more than double their salaries in the extra pay, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and members of the Board of Supervisors adopted legislation placing the 624-hour cap on the number of allowable overtime hours per employee.

The cap was seen as a way to lower costs, and ensure workers remain productive as well as protect the employees’ own welfare. Exemptions were built into the system.

The City’s overall overtime spending had been on the decline during the past two years since it peaked in 2008 at $167 million.

“I am concerned about the overtime numbers. We’re up slightly over last year,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who sits on the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. “I think that The City is getting a handle on overtime, but we have more work to do.”



How it adds up

  • $102M: Amount The City budgeted for OT this year
  • $142M: Amount The City is projected to spend on OT this year
  • $130M: Amount The City spent on OT last year
  • $5.4M: Municipal Transportation Agency’s projected increase in OT spending compared to last year
  • $6M: Fire Department’s projected increase in OT spending compared to last year

Source: City Controller’s Office

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