Allegheny County paid $29.2 million in overtime in 2020, mostly to nursing home and jail employees

The overtime pay continues a trend in recent years, with nurses and correctional officers earning tens of thousands over their base pay. County Executive Fitzgerald got a pay bump this year.

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(Photos via Adobe Stock | Illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Allegheny County paid $29.2 million in overtime to its employees in 2020, including more than $16 million to employees of the county jail and county nursing homes.

The county paid more than $324 million in gross pay to 6,314 full- and part-time employees who worked for the county in 2020. This figure includes base pay, overtime and bonuses and was a 1.5% increase over 2019. This data includes all who worked for the county for at least one day last year and does  not represent the size of the county’s workforce at any one time.

The median gross pay for full- and part-time county employees was $48,290. 

Some of the top base-pay earners in the county are public figures and politicians, but other employees, including nurses and jail workers, climbed the list of top earners by racking up large amounts of overtime. 

The county redacted the names of 57 employees who are undercover law enforcement or would face a risk of physical harm by being named.

Explore the full dataset here.

Overtime

Overtime pay represents 9% of all the taxpayer money that went to salaries. County overtime pay has steadily increased since it stood at around $20 million in 2014. It peaked at $30.1 million in 2018 and landed at around $29 million in both 2019 and 2020. 

According to the county budget department, overtime is “expected and planned for” and that the fact that the 2020 amount was similar to recent years despite the pandemic “reflects the work that has been done to ensure that employee overtime is monitored.”

The county jail and its 706 employees accounted for the biggest chunk of the county’s overtime pay ($8.6 million) and its second biggest gross payroll ($44.6 million). Twenty-four correctional officers earned more than Warden Orlando Harper in 2020. Correctional Officer Brian W. Englert was the top earner at $164,162, including $84,833 in overtime. Harper made $120,311.

Englert was not the county’s overall biggest overtime earner, though. That distinction belongs to Minkyong Shin, a registered nurse at the Kane Regional Centers nursing homes. Shin had a base salary of about $60,000 but earned more than $143,000 in overtime, bringing the total to more than $205,000.

Policies are in place to ensure the safety of employees and people under their care, according to the county budget department, but county officials wouldn’t otherwise comment on personnel matters.

The Kane Centers paid $47.5 million to 1,055 employees. More than $8.2 million — or 17% — was from overtime. Shin was its highest-paid employee by more than $60,000, though 16 other employees grossed more than $100,000 including base pay and overtime. Shin was one of 12 who received more than $50,000 in overtime.

The Department of Emergency Management paid 17% more in overtime than it did in 2019. The sheriff’s office cut its overtime by about a third from 2019 and the Department of Human Services by 17%.

Demographic disparities

The racial makeup of the county’s workforce in 2020 was similar to the county population. About 80% of county employees and county residents were white in 2020. Black individuals accounted for about 13% of the county population but almost 18% of the county workforce. 

While 4% of the county population is Asian or Pacific Islander,  that group comprises 0.9% of county employees. And, 2% of county residents are Hispanic or Latino, compared to 0.6% of employees.

50.1% of county employees were female. The database contained no other designations beyond female and male, such as nonbinary. 

Male employees received a median gross pay of more than $10,000 higher than women — $53,779 compared to $43,603. 

The only two racial groups with more than 100 workers also showed a pay disparity. Black workers earned a median gross pay of $43,469, while white workers earned a median gross pay of $49,795.

Top earners

The top earner, including overtime and bonuses, in 2020 was Dr. Karl Williams, the chief medical examiner ($219,864). Second was County Manager William McKain ($210,958) followed by County Police Inspector Kenneth Ruckel ($206,451). 

Minkyong Shin, the Kane Centers nurse who earned more than $143,000 in overtime pay, was the county’s fourth-highest gross earner at $205,295. 

District Attorney Stephen Zappala is the only elected official among the top 25 gross earners, ranking eighth at $185,571.

Of the top 25 earners, seven worked for the county police, five for the medical examiner’s office, four for the jail, and nine others spread across seven different departments.

Out-earning Fitzgerald

Including overtime and bonuses, 46 employees earned more than County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. This is down from 604 employees who did so in 2019. Fitzgerald’s pay jumped from $90,000 in 2019 to $135,886 in 2020. 

The increase was triggered by an ordinance passed by County Council in 2016 that set the county executive’s salary at 68% of the Pennsylvania governor’s salary starting in 2020. The ordinance was passed by council and signed into law by Fitzgerald. Its effect was delayed because officials are prohibited from increasing their own pay in the middle of a term in office. Fitzgerald won reelection in 2019.

Of the 46 workers who earned more than Fitzgerald, 20 worked for the county police and seven worked for the jail.

Longest county career

The longest-tenured county employee started as a clerk typist in the Department of Health in 1968 and has worked in the same position since. She was the only county employee in 2020 who was hired before 1970. She made $40,269 in 2020.

Forty-eight county employees in 2020 were hired in the 1970s, though 15 of them retired or otherwise departed at some point in the year. More than 320 employees started in the 1980s, 676 in the 1990s, 1,282 in the 2000s, 3,191 in the 2010s and 767 in 2020.

The county budget department attributed the relatively high number of hires in 2020 to the need to offset a wave of departures — some seeking more lucrative work in the medical and scientific fields and some choosing to retire rather than be in public during the pandemic.

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource's local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at charlie@publicsource.org and on Twitter @chwolfson.

This story was fact-checked by Xiaohan Liu.

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