California’s Overtime Problem is Squeezing Public Safety Workers

Staffing shortages, rising benefit costs, and an unrelenting fire season have meant an explosion in overtime for California’s public safety departments. The Sacramento Bee reports that cities and counties spent $3.7 billion on overtime last year alone, which represents a 60% increase from the $2.3 billion spent in 2012.

While inflated wages usually become the story here, the cost of overtime isn’t the biggest problem, local officials say. Instead, they worry about the pressure it’s putting on public safety personnel who are often expected to handle life-threatening situations after working long shifts with little down time.

Seventy-nine cities saw overtime costs more than double between 2012 and 2017. Overtime costs in Patterson rose by 173%. They rose in Sacramento by 117%, in Los Angeles by 111%, and by 105% in Merced. Likewise, the counties of Madera, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, and Yolo saw overtime costs increase between 68% and 92%.

“In a job market with such low unemployment, it becomes very difficult for us to hire,” said Sacramento Assistant City Manager Leyne Milstein. That’s the case in San Luis Obispo County as well where nearly one-fifth of the patrol and correctional deputy positions were left vacant last year.

Add to that the rising costs of pensions and wildfires as far as the eye can see and you’ve got a dilemma.

“The overtime our officers are working is becoming a problem for them,” said Lodi City Manager Steve Schwabauer. “We’re at the point where we’re asking too much, I fear.”

Read more at the Sacramento Bee