City tries to crack down on OT abuse by some EMS crews

City tries to crack down on OT abuse by some ambulance crews
Published: Jul. 1, 2015 at 10:22 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2015 at 4:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell met Wednesday afternoon with the head of the city paramedics' union to discuss an effort to crack down on overtime abuse that sources said the union is opposing.

Overtime and sick leave abuse is rampant in state and city government, but few departments actually try to do anything about it.

On August 1, the city might end its year-long pilot project in which city paramedics and emergency medical technicians work 12-hour instead of eight-hour shifts, a move that's on track to save the city $1 million in overtime this year.

Wednesday afternoon, Dayton Nakanelua, the head of United Public Workers, the paramedics' union, went to City Hall for a meeting with Mayor Kirk Caldwell to discuss the program and the city's efforts to make changes to it to curb overtime abuse. Hawaii News Now left a message with Nakanelua, but did not receive a call back Wednesday afternoon.

The city wants to stop the practice of some medics who call in sick during their regularly scheduled shifts and then collect automatic overtime anyway.

"The whole intent behind the 12-hour system was supposed to be to reduce overtime costs, and in general it has had that effect.  However, we do have this loophole," said City Councilman Ron Menor, chairman of the Council's public safety committee.

The proposed change: medics would only be able collect Saturday overtime if they had not been out sick in the days before that, sources said. Medics who called out sick in the days before would still be allowed to work on Saturdays, but would earn regular pay and not time-and-a-half, a source said.

While many medics support the change limiting overtime for those who call in sick, other medics and their union initially opposed the idea, sources said.

"So I'm glad in that regard that the city administration is discussing this further with the union representing the EMS employees to try to eliminate this loophole in the system," Menor said.

For Caldwell, who faces a re-election race next year, the situation is a politically difficult one, since his administration would be cracking down on members of a powerful union that can withhold financial and grassroots support they are upset by his efforts.

City Emergency Services Director Mark Rigg, was also at Wednesday's meeting with Caldwell declined an interview because union negotiations are under way.

But Rigg released a statement that said: "Negotiations between the city and the United Public Workers union are ongoing and no final decisions on the schedule have been reached."

That statement contradicted a memo Rigg sent to EMS employees on June 24 that said the pilot 12-hour shift project will end August 1.  In the memo, Rigg said the city will return to medics working on an 8-hour schedule Aug. 2.

Similar types of overtime abuse happen in other city and state departments, such as the State Hospital, where some employees call in sick on a day shift but show up on the night shift the same day to collect overtime, in some cases.

Some city and state employees game the system so often, they burn through their 21 sick days each year, but can use compensatory time to keep calling in sick anyway.

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