BALTIMORE — City workers who perform “task work” can finish their assigned duty well before the end of their shifts while continuing to get paid for the full slate of hours whether they work or not, or can earn overtime despite still working within their allotted shift, according to a report by the Baltimore City Office of the Inspector General.
The report focused on allegations of waste at the Department of Public Works (DPW), Bureau of Solid Waste (BSW), said a letter authored by Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming. Workers in the department who handle curbside trash collections work 10-hour shifts, during which they are assigned one route or task per day. According to language in the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the union that represents the bureau's employees, workers are to be assigned routes and tasks daily. Management of the department has interpreted that to mean the workers can be assigned just one route per shift. If they take on any additional routes or tasks, that is considered voluntary and overtime work, for which overtime is paid, even if the work is being completed within the bounds of the workers’ assigned 10-hour shifts.
The report found that if workers were to complete their assigned route/task in six hours, they could either go home and continue to be paid for the four remaining hours on their shift despite not working, or they could voluntarily help with another task, at which point overtime would immediately begin, meaning the worker would be paid the original six hours their regular hourly wage, the four additional hours left in their shift, and then get paid the next four hours at time-and-a-half despite not exceeding the limits of their shift.
The OIG offered one example in which a worker being paid $10 an hour could make $160 or $100 for the same amount of work depending on how the language of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is read. In one scenario, the worker completes his route in six hours but gets paid the full $100 for 10 hours of work, and then jumps into another route, earning the “overtime” rate for that work of $15, for the four remaining hours, totaling $160 in overall compensation. That same worker could have been paid $60 for the six hours of work on the first route and $40 for the next four hours spend on the second task, still completing all work within the 10-hour shift.
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“This interpretation by Management costs the City of Baltimore thousands of dollars in overtime pay,” the OIG report said. The report referred to the specific language of the MOU for work hours, which refers to the completion of “all tasks” assigned in a shift, not a single assignment per shift.
“The language in the MOU does not limit management to assigning crews to only one route per day,” the OIG report said, “the MOU allows for multiple tasks or routes to be assigned if they can be completed within the 10-hour assigned shift.”
The OIG also found the BSW had paid out hundred of dollars in meal allowances they did not need to, as the MOU says workers should get $8 for food if they work more than three hours immediately after completing their full-time work shift.
In response to the report, DPW Director Rudolph S. Chow acknowledged the task work system used by the BSW, saying such a system has been utilized for many years and incorporated into the MOU.
“I agree that solid waste routes should not be completed too quickly as that can indicate the routes are not mapped properly or that crews were not diligent while performing their work,” Chow said in a letter addressed to Cummings. “I have instructed Solid Waste Bureau Head John Chalmers to procure routing software that can optimize daily routes.”
The letter did not address whether workers could be assigned more than one task or route for a given shift, or if workers who begin a second task would immediately trigger overtime earnings or not. If the one-task system remains in place, even if overtime rules are amended, a worker could hypothetically just complete six hours of work in 10 and earn the same amount while facing no reprimand despite their potential ability to more productively complete their tasks during a full 10-hour shift.
As part of their review of the department, the OIG also toured the DPW, BSW facility at 6101 Bowley’s Lane after hearing safety and sanitation concerns. Inspectors found several potential violations of OSHA safety understandings, including:
- Urinals being broken and ‘out of order’
- A sink with no running water
- A disarmed alarm meant to notify employees that the methane gas tank “is full”
- Valves associated with methane gas tank not being released “in a very long time”, contributing to staff fears of gases at the yard contributing to health issues
- A water fountain that was turned off because staff believed it was contaminated
“The safety of the public and our employees is my top priority,” Chow said in his letter to Cummings, acknowledging the particular concerns cited in the facilities inspection. “We have received estimates from contractors for the repairs and are working with the Department of General Services to schedule and identify the funding to pay for the repairs.”