(Illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Allegheny County continued a yearslong trend of spending roughly $29 million on overtime in 2021.

In total, the county paid a total of $321.3 million to 6,330 employees last year.

Like in 2020, the county’s biggest areas were:

  • Department of Human Services (974 employees and 15% of the county’s gross payroll) 
  • Allegheny County Jail (674 employees and 14% of the county’s gross payroll)
  • Kane Centers nursing homes (978 employees and 13% of the county’s gross payroll).

More people left county jobs in 2021 than were hired, and some essential services such as health, emergency management and nursing homes absorbed big personnel losses.

View the full dataset here.

Overtime

Overtime costs made up 9% of all of the county’s payroll expenditures in 2021 but was a more significant cost at some agencies, including the Kane Centers (16% of pay expenditures) and the jail (20% of pay expenditures).

Overtime doesn’t only have an impact on the county’s bank account; some county employees complain of overwork and low morale brought about by frequent mandatory overtime. Throughout much of 2021, 911 dispatchers were regularly forced to work double eight-hour shifts, sometimes with no notice. At the jail, the correctional officers’ union leader has often taken to public forums to warn that mandatory overtime exhausts his staff and can lead to dangerous situations.

In an email to PublicSource, county spokesperson Amie Downs said this amount of overtime pay is not a concern for county leaders. “Overtime is part of any budget and something that we must plan for when making projections,” Downs said.

Overtime propelled some rank-and-file county workers to be among the county’s top earners. 

Brian Englert, a correctional officer at the jail and the officers’ union president, had a base salary of $74,145 but became the county’s eighth-highest earner by racking up more than $100,000 in overtime pay. A county police officer whose name was redacted from records earned more than $68,000 in overtime pay, bumping his gross pay to almost $180,000. 

At the Kane Centers, a licensed practical nurse almost tripled her base salary, earning nearly $85,000 in overtime pay. 

Top officials

In a sign of the COVID times, the top earner in the county government was Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen. Bogen, whose tenure as health director started just as COVID-19 reached Pittsburgh, received a 2% raise last year and grossed $255,000.

The next highest salaries belonged to County Manager William McKain and Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams, each around $223,000. 

District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. was the highest-paid elected official ($185,666), followed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald ($138,664).

Fitzgerald’s salary bumped up 2% last year, a year after it jumped 50% thanks to an ordinance he had previously signed into law. Twenty county employees earned a higher base salary than Fitzgerald in 2021, and 57 did so when including overtime and other pay.

In total, the county’s five full-time elected officials earned about $655,000 last year. That group included Fitzgerald, Zappala, then-Controller Chelsa Wagner, then-Sheriff William Mullen and Treasurer John Weinstein.

Disparities

The racial and gender breakdown of the county’s workforce in 2021 largely matched that of the county’s population, with 80% of employees being white and 50% being male. 

There were pay disparities between demographic groups. Among full- and part-time employees, men had a median salary 20% higher than women, $52,156 to $43,246. White men earned a higher median salary than any other group ($52,840), and Black women had the lowest median salary of any group ($41,604).

(Note: Data provided by the county included only binary gender information, with all employees labeled either male or female.)

Downs said these topline salary numbers can be attributed to union contracts and other factors that do not include race. 

“Taking a snapshot that looks at the entire workforce together is not a reflection of pay or any existing disparities,” Downs said. “Approximately 80% of our workforce is unionized and the wages are set by the collective bargaining agreement and can reflect training, education, longevity, and any other number of factors. They do not, however, reflect race or gender.”

She said 24% of county hires since 2012 have been African American, 28% have been people of color and 60% have been female. 

Entries and exits

The county hired 749 people in 2021, including many seasonal parks employees, jail workers and human services caseworkers. Meanwhile, 1,279 people left their county jobs during the year, including 158 employees from human services, 212 from the Kane Centers, 113 from the jail, 80 from the Health Department and 58 from emergency management.

Human services underwent a stressful return-to-office process during the Delta wave of COVID-19 in mid-2021, accompanied by a higher-than-normal number of staff departures. The jail, the Health Department’s food safety team and the 911 center have each been the subject of dire understaffing reports. 

Of the workers hired to non-temporary positions at the county in 2021, 120 left their job before the year ended. These included 34 jail employees and 12 Health Department employees. 

Downs said the administration considers the number of departures this year and last to be “outliers” brought on by the pandemic. During the pandemic, she said, a “great deal of competition” for healthcare workers is reflected in the departments with high turnover.

“Individuals who were eligible to retire chose that option rather than continuing to work during COVID,” she added. 

Employee of the half-century

One county employee has the distinction of being hired in the 1960s — a clerk typist in the Health Department who has worked the same position since 1968 and earned $41,072 last year. Sixty people employed by the county in 2021 were hired in the 1970s (18 of them left their job during 2021), 300 were hired in the 1980s, 633 in the 1990s, 1,290 in the 2000s, 2,857 in the 2010s and 1,190 in the 2020s. 

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 Abby Nemec-Marwene.

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Charlie Wolfson is an enterprise reporter for PublicSource, focusing on local government accountability in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. He is also a Report for America corps member. Charlie aims to...