FOX 8 Investigates: Civil Service considering emergency overtime reforms

A FOX 8 investigation into City Hall executives earning an unprecedented amount of overtime during Hurricane Isaac leads to proposed rule changes.   This Monday, the Civil Service Commission will take up one proposal about how emergency overtime pay should be doled out.

When Hurricane Isaac hit in late August, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency, and for six days, salaried workers who are normally exempt from making overtime were allowed to earn the extra pay. It amounted to time and a half for their first 40 hours, then double time for every hour after that.

CAO Andy Kopplin said it was justified.  "The big picture here is in an emergency, there are essential personnel, required to be here 24/7," Kopplin told FOX 8.

A FOX 8 investigation found Kopplin and the city's other five deputy mayors, plus the health director, collectively raked in more than $100,000 in both emergency pay and overtime.  That set off a firestorm of criticism, since they already make on average more than $150,000 a year.

Nick Felton with the Firefighters Association was outraged.  He told FOX 8, "I just don't see where you have people making six-figure salaries, that they knew coming in their job was going to require them to work long hours.  They're supposed to be the best and the brightest and absolutely it doesn't show well if the mayor or anyone authorized that pay to be done."

That enhanced pay for normally exempt employees was allowed because of a Civil Service rule change in 2010.  It was initially requested because of the BP oil spill.

Now, the issue comes before the Civil Service Commission again.

Civil Service staff members propose a couple of changes to the rule.  They want emergency overtime limited to salaried workers who make less than $100,000 a year.  Those are workers who are not considered "highly compensated" under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Randolph Scott, head of the Concerned Classified City Employees group, says no salaried employees should ever receive overtime.

"The reason for that is salaried employees get their benefits every day, 24/7, 365 days a year," said Scott. "They can take care of personal things during city time, dentist and doctors appointments, during their hours of work and they're not penalized."

The Civil Service Department also proposes no emergency overtime for normally exempt workers, unless a disaster lasts at least two weeks.  Had that been in place during Isaac, no salaried employees would have earned emergency OT.

The Landrieu administration has a different request, though.  It still wants to pay all salaried employees the extra money during a disaster, but proposes capping emergency payments at 12 hours a day for department heads and above.

Scott is not happy with that proposal either, calling it a slap in the face to hourly employees and taxpayers.

"I call the administration nothing but a bunch of price gougers," said Scott.  "I'm not confident about anything except that we have a city administration that's greedy and wants to exploit the taxpayers."

The city says FEMA reimburses 75 percent of the payroll costs.

A city spokesperson was out of the office Thursday and did not get back to us with a comment about the new proposed rule changes.

If the Civil Service Commission agrees to change the emergency overtime rule, the City Council would have to sign off on it.