PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – They worked the hours, they earned the money fair and square.
But still, the numbers are astounding: 400 city employees – almost all public safety workers – made more than $100,000 last year.
About half were Pittsburgh firefighters, including two deputy chiefs and a battalion chief who made more than $200,000 each. The reason: runaway overtime.
“Those individuals have worked an inordinate amount of overtime,” said Josh Bloom with the Pittsburgh Firefighter Union said.
Some firefighters in the city routinely worked 80 to 90 hours a week last year, covering shifts around the clock, even though their union says many would have rather been home.
“Yes, there are several individual firefighters who made a lot more money than you would expect a firefighter to make in his salary,” said Bloom. “But the other side of the story is those firefighters work twice as much as any normal person and those firefighters forget what their living room looks like.”
The primary reason for the overtime is short staffing. The fire bureau has more than 100 vacancies. After working one shift, firefighters are often called back to fill in the following shift. So the solution seems simple.
“The answer is hire more firefighters,” Bloom said.
And the new city administration agrees, Mayor Bill Peduto has just authorized a new training class of fire recruits. But Peduto Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin says the problem goes deeper.
“We don’t have a system in place to put a cap on overtime,” he said.
The administration says over the years, the city has lost management control and will try to regain some of that in contract talks with the union this year. On the table will be so-called “minimum staffing,” which dictates the number of firefighters required for all shifts and all rigs.
“Because if we don’t, we’re just going to have what we’ve had in the past,” Acklin said. “Runaway overtime that blows our budget, prevents us from investing in our neighborhood, contributing to our pensions and doing our core services, plowing our streets and the like.”
But these are likely to be thorny negotiations. The union is adamant that any reduction in the required number of firefighters on a rig will put the firefighter and the public in danger. And they say the point is non-negotiable. It remains to be seen if he city will ever get a handle on this overtime.