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          Front Page




How To Collect OT in Under 8 Hours

By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
    A policy that lets garbage-truck drivers go home early if they finish their routes may contribute to traffic accidents, overloaded trucks and other problems, says a new audit.
    The report issued Thursday by the city's Office of Internal Audit says the policy applies to about 180 drivers and is part of a union contract.
    A driver who completes a route in five hours would get five hours of regular pay and three hours of "incentive pay," for a total of eight hours of pay, the audit says. If the driver is needed for additional work after finishing his route early, such as helping to fill in for a sick co-worker, he would be paid overtime.
    Garbage-truck drivers had 52 vehicle accidents in 2001 and 2002 that were ruled preventable by a loss-review committee, the audit says. It says 19 of those accidents were on a day the driver received incentive pay.
    The incentive pay policy is a longstanding one, and concerns about garbage truck drivers have come up before.
    A 1997 audit found that drivers traveled up to 20 mph over the speed limit and often hauled dangerously heavy loads to finish their routes faster. It said those factors might have contributed to four rollover truck accidents in six months.
    The new audit cited an incident in June, when a driver finished his route in just over four hours but was in a traffic accident and was cited for failing to yield the right of way to another vehicle. A decision was ultimately made to salvage his garbage truck rather than pay for repairs. The driver had three prior accidents between April 2001 and April 2002, the audit says.
    The audit says the incentive policy could contribute to missed garbage pick-ups and the continued use of garbage trucks that should be repaired.
    Drivers sometimes load too much garbage into their trucks before heading to the landfill to save trips. Of the 24 drivers who received the most incentive pay in 2002, 15 were consistently going to the landfill in trucks that weighed more than the legal limit, the audit says.
    "The unintended results of the incentive program could be an increase in safety risks, cost of operations, legal liabilities and customer dissatisfaction," the audit says.
    It says drivers received $4 million in incentive pay during the past six years, and "there may be additional indirect costs of the incentive program that have not been considered by the administration.
    "Increased costs due to preventable accidents, missed refuse pick-ups, and vehicle repair and maintenance may all be related to the incentive program," the audit says.
    Robert Sanchez, president of a blue-collar union that includes the drivers, said the incentive policy was established long ago at the suggestion of management. At the time, it was meant to encourage drivers to complete their routes by the end of a normal work day to cut down on overtime.
    He said the union would be willing to discuss eliminating the incentive program as a part of overall contract negotiations.
    Chief Administrative Officer Jay Czar said the policy "is something that has been in effect for a long time. ... We're going to have to look at the whole thing, to get to the bottom of it. It's something we'll have to look at very carefully."
    James Lewis, the city's chief operating officer, also said the policy will be reassessed.
    "We want to make sure that they are not violating any speed limits, that the quality of the work is there. We'll do a thorough assessment and deal with the unions to make sure we're doing what is best for the city and fair to employees," Lewis said.