Union Rules and “Unique System” Drive Up Overtime for State Government Community Living Aides

Another group of state employees who have enjoyed generous amounts of overtime pay are community living aides (CLAs), but state officials recently said they are trying to hire more to bring down the costs.

The state paid $89.6 million dollars in overtime and other premiums in fiscal year 2011, as first reported by the Ocean State Current. Besides CLAs, state employees who have benefited from generous overtime usage include nurses, laundry workers, institutional attendants, and others.

In fiscal year 2011, there were 228 community living aides listed on the state’s central payroll. Of those, 14 earned more than $100,000, including their overtime pay. The total amount the state paid in overtime and other salary premiums to CLAs was almost $5.3 million. The average overtime was $23,232 added to an average regular pay of $35,599, as illustrated in the following chart.

Community Living Aides Gross Pay Including Regular and Overtime, FY11

The other premiums listed under the catch-all category “overtime” in the state’s figures include extra pay for things like longevity and additional degrees or for working weekends or holidays.

The top-paid CLA in 2011 was Felix Adefusika, who earned $90,413 in overtime and premiums on top of his salary of $39,462, to give him a total gross pay of $129,875. Mary Leite was close behind with $129,594, which included $88,416 in overtime.

CLAs are required to have a high school diploma and be at least 18 years old. All but one of the 14 top paid CLAs worked for Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS), which is part of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH).

RICLAS runs 25 group homes in the state, where four to six adults with developmental disabilities live. Each home must have at least two CLAs per shift, and the homes are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Charles Williams, RICLAS administrator.

According to figures provided by Williams, RICLAS paid $7.6 million in overtime and salary enhancements to all employees, including CLAs, in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. According to the table, that number was reduced to $6.5 million in FY 2012, an almost 15 percent reduction. The projection for the current fiscal year is $6.6 million, or a 14 percent reduction from 2010.

But the figure remains high, and Williams said that is partially because the department has been understaffed.

In a memo, he said the state is working to reduce the amount of overtime pay by hiring more CLAs and by adding seasonal employees. The state’s budget for RICLAS allows for 294 CLAs, and it currently has 272 on staff.

“We are aggressively moving toward reaching 294,” said Deb Varga, BHDDH spokeswoman.

There are no CLA positions listed on the state’s job boards, but BHDDH has held job fairs recently to recruit CLAs and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Most of the jobs were for “seasonal” employees — who would be better classified as “temporary” employees — but the state is limited as to the number of seasonal employees it can hire and how long they can remain on staff under an agreement with the American Federation of State and County Employees Local 1293, the union that represents the state’s CLAs.

The union agreement says that RICLAS can have no more than 30 seasonal employees at a time, and they cannot work for more than 90 days unless they are moved to permanent positions. Seasonal employees are not paid state benefits.

BHDDH Director Craig Stenning said his department is “more aggressively negotiating” with unions to increase the number of seasonal employees, who are used to fill positions as they open up. The department is also hiring workers now on a continuous basis instead of starting the process when a position opens up.

Ten years ago, the state tried to address overtime costs at RICLAS’s group homes by listing a “float” function on all CLA job descriptions — meaning employees would be expected to be assigned to other group homes if a shift came open or someone failed to show up to work. The union said that this was unfair to workers, and would only agree to 10 floater positions.

When the state went ahead with its plan to change the job description, the union filed a complaint with the State Labor Relations Board. In 2003, the board decided in the union’s favor.

Union agreements also dictate what order RICLAS must follow when it offers overtime to employees, which includes provisions based on seniority and location. CLAs can place their names on overtime lists for as many of the group homes as they like.

Williams said he is now looking at all time sheets for RICLAS in an effort to keep overtime to a minimum.

In a Rhode Island Health and Human Services Waste and Fraud Project report, compiled by Simpatico Software Systems, RICLAS was called a “very expensive and unique system when compared to the rest of the country for the provision of group homes to Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities.”

According to the report, one of the reasons the cost is so high is that the state owns the group homes and pays for all of their maintenance, but still pays the operators of the homes similar rates as in other states where the operators own and maintain the homes.

The report also suggests that the state could save money by moving developmentally disabled adults who need extra care into a common facility to bring down staffing costs.

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