Sometimes having fewer people to do the job might mean more work for the employees but a lower bottom line for the payroll.
You have a store to staff, for example. You want 10 people to work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You only have five. You shuffle those around, have a little less coverage at certain times than you would like, but ultimately you’re only paying five salaries. It isn’t ideal, but it will work in a pinch.
For a longer term, a business might adjust hours. A restaurant could close on Mondays when fewer people are eating out. Maybe a shop will open later or close earlier. An employer will do what they have to do.
There are jobs where this simply doesn’t work. A lot of them are in specific roles for the government. Prisons, law enforcement, emergency services, nursing homes and protective services work with a different set of requirements.
Nursing homes and prisons aren’t safe with less than a minimum ratio of employees to the individuals they oversee. A 911 call can’t just go to a message that says “Please leave a message, and we will get back to you after 9 a.m.” When someone calls about abuse or because a child needs help, that isn’t something that can wait until the next business day.
That means counties — which provide many of those boots-on-the-ground services — are experiencing an overflow of overtime amid staffing shortages.
Westmoreland County paid out about $5 million in overtime in 2022. The largest slice of that pie went to prison employees, who collected an extra $1.38 million. Others racking up high overtime were 911 dispatchers ($818,268), Westmoreland Manor nursing ($695,008), the sheriff’s office ($346,323) and the children’s bureau ($253,148).
And 2023 is not promising to be better, with $1.37 million paid out in overtime by the start of April.
Allegheny County has had similar jail overtime issues. So has the state. Pennsylvania has hundreds of unfilled jobs across its 23 prisons. Acting Secretary of Corrections Laurel Harry told the state Senate Appropriations Committee that she anticipates $148 million in overtime.
Westmoreland County’s prison staffing shortage comes just under 20% of its full complement of 159 officers.
“It’s a public safety issue because we have to be staffed 24 hours a day,” Warden Bryan Kline said.
That’s why finding a solution to the staffing shortage is more than just a monetary issue. Guards need to be alert and engaged. That should mean well-rested and refreshed.
Sure, the money is good. Corrections officer Joseph A. Cuneo made $101,567 in overtime in 2022, when his 2023 base salary is $59,134. However, guards putting in more hours and double shifts can burn out faster on an already stressful job. In 2019, even before the pandemic shortages began, counselor Caterina Spinaris was writing about the impact of overtime and sleep deprivation on corrections officers.
That means paying overtime is only a temporary fix. Counties like Westmoreland, and the state, need to find concrete, long-term way to make all of these vital jobs more attractive to employees who want to work — and want to stay. It makes sense practically and financially.
— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
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