Overtime is a vital management tool. Clearly, it's preferable to pay some workers time-and-a-half during work-packed periods than to add employees who may be underutilized at other times. "If overtime is driven by workload and intelligently balanced, planned and documented, it can be a very effective tool," says Drummond Kahn, director of audit services for Portland, Oregon. If it's not used appropriately, he adds, "it can lead to paying more than needed to get the work done."
We have come across a number of cases of the latter. There are cities and states in which workers who are about to retire put in scores of hours of overtime, largely to hype their pension benefits. In Buffalo, New York, for example, firefighters who retired in 2008 earned about $110,000 a year before their retirement, with an average of $45,000 of it in overtime. For those not nearing retirement, the average pay was about $70,000, with less than $16,000 of it from overtime.
Some cities invite this kind of problem by allowing unions to select who gets overtime assignments. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, which faced a $19 million deficit last year, police officers racked up nearly $9 million in overtime. Police union officials say there is not much that can be done about overtime since the department is 75 officers short of authorized strength. That's a fair enough point. But city officials complain that labor contracts allow unions to pick who gets assigned overtime, which drives up costs when older officers with higher salaries get these assignments. One police sergeant had a salary of $62,948, but picked up more than $100,000 in overtime--bringing compensation for that year to around $163,000.
Sometimes, overtime spirals out of control when government doesn't intervene in related problems. Atlanta City Auditor Leslie Ward told us that a lot of the overtime in her city's jail was driven by excessive staff absences. In 2008, the staff was unavailable to work 21 percent of their scheduled shifts. "If an employer doesn't manage or monitor the potential for abuse of sick leave," she says, "you end up with a lot of staffing gaps that you have to fill with overtime."
An audit in Portland, Oregon, which focused on three very different departments, noted problems with compensatory time: An employee gets one-and-a-half hours off for every additional hour worked, driving the city to a large overtime bill. And, there was often missing information on why overtime was necessary. "We found employees weren't asked to track the details or record what they were doing," says Jennifer Scott, management auditor for Portland. "So, management didn't have data or reports to analyze the use or misuse of overtime."
There are a number of potential ways out of an overtime morass. Scott suggests that government agencies implement policies that establish "a tone of how it could be set efficiently and effectively." This includes making sure employees have reasonable expectations about overtime. Otherwise, they tend to build it into their family budgets, assuming that if they want more hours, overtime will be available to them.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has been able to cut overtime use by 45 percent since 2005 through a variety of basic management improvements: sequencing projects instead of running them simultaneously; planning ahead for personnel needs; and working with the labor unions on productivity issues.
In Atlanta jails, 12-hour shifts have helped to reduce overtime, although union leaders complain that there are safety drawbacks and that the change has hurt employee morale. Flexible schedules, which Atlanta's Ward uses with
her own auditors, help reduce unscheduled absences. They also are attractive to employees.
New York Governor David Paterson's pension reform proposals would exclude overtime compensation from being included in an employee's pay when a pension is calculated. As with other parts of the pension proposal, this stipulation would be in effect for new employees and not current employees.
Meanwhile, the New York Comptroller's Office advises local governments to do the relatively simple calculations that determine when hiring more employees would be cheaper than having current employees tote up overtime hours. For example, a recent audit noted that New York's Monroe County could have saved $2 million over five years by hiring 26 additional deputies for several jails, rather than utilizing overtime. The Comptroller's Office also put together a brochure of recommendations. It's available on the office's Web site (osc.state.ny.us/localgov/costsavings/overtimeplanning.htm).
Mandatory overtime removes parents from children’s presence for substantial periods of formative years, infant to teen, but parent-workers cannot pay for normal expenses without overtime, creating a vicious circle, a hamster wheel effect, and family stress for workers at Amazon.
Overtime requirements puts the employee on unpaid on-call every week and also puts the family and children of the employee on-call for the parent to be absent ten hours per week. This on-call requirement protects the company regarding volume fluctuations. Overtime is mandatory. If an employee misses it, he must forfeit UPT, personal time, or vacation. Mandatory overtime can be called as late as the end of shift the day before. Frequently, mandatory overtime is called for the week, and then cancelled at the last minute.
Family members, particularly the worker’s child/children know that the worker might be called to work for a ten hour overtime day, every week of the year. The cumulative effect of these absences is incalculable.
An Operations Manager gave these statistics for SDF8 Inbound department at the February 3rd, 2016 All hands meeting. (Pick and pack are Outbound, but I would imagine the figures are comparable.): 2015 Overtime–8 weeks (3 consecutive); 2014 Overtime–24 consecutive weeks (if my notes are correct). These figures might indicate the company is aware of excessive overtime requirements and has been making efforts to alleviate this problem. However, mandatory overtime in 2016 has been extremely high. As of 6/8/2016, the DB3 shift had worked 13 weeks mandatory overtime. My shift, DA5, had worked 6 weeks mandatory overtime. Often, it is the luck of the draw, depending on the employee’s shift assignment, whether the employee is forced to work on his on-call overtime day. Company production volume requirements always supersede worker life obligations. The employee must appear or forfeit time-off hours. Mandatory overtime has been exceedingly high in the third quarter of 2016 as well, leaving employees already tired and burned-out leading into peak season.
When not assigned mandatory overtime, many Tier One associates find it necessary to volunteer for overtime to make ends meet. Maintaining a reliable vehicle, buying groceries, paying utilities, phone, gas, insurance, housing, medical bills and dental services–these obligations become extremely difficult to manage on a regular forty hour paycheck. These problems are certainly systemic in the United States and world economies, but I am focusing on SDF8 in Jeffersonville, IN, USA.
Employees try to maintain lives outside of Amazon. It can be difficult to find time for exercise, kids, sleep, housework, pets. Social life is severely restricted. Employees have to work overtime just to pay for life’s basic necessities. They do not use the extra money to get ahead, only to stay afloat. Parents might have a feeling that their relationships with their children are falling out of their grasp.
Sometimes, management hints that mandatory overtime is the associates’ doing, implying that employees create mandatory overtime for themselves. A manager said in stand-up, “You need to work hard and make your rate to reduce MOT.” Matt certainly implied UPT abuse was at the root of the October 2015 labor-hour crisis, without addressing the greater issues implicit within that event.
Amazon will adjust an employee’s schedule for school, but not for parental obligations. I believe school is the only thing it will make accommodations for. The company rolled out new, liberal maternity/paternity leave policies in 2015. I applaud it, but once the leave is over, the parent is on his own.
Cell phones are not allowed for Tier One employees. In today’s culture, families rely on cell phone connectivity for everything. Tier One employees leave these communication channels at the door. Tier Three, salaried managers, HR, facility technicians can carry their phones.