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Baltimore City unions report workers underpaid or unpaid; Council President Mosby calls for investigative hearing

Hundreds of Baltimore employees continue to be underpaid or receive no money in their paychecks, several weeks after the city rolled out a new payroll system, the heads of multiple city unions said Friday.

Mike Mancuso, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said that as of this week, 800 of his 2,400 members continue to have problems with their checks following the transition to Workday software.

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The City Union of Baltimore has mediated problems for at least 200 of its 3,000 members, including some who have gone unpaid for six weeks, said Ray Baker, spokesperson for the union.

Mancuso said an even more FOP members were affected when the transition first occurred. That eclipses an initial estimate from the office of Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott, which said about 100 of the city’s 13,000 workers were impacted.

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“We realize every new system is going to have hiccups, but this is a complete disaster,” Mancuso said.

Stefanie Mavronis, spokesperson for Scott, confirmed that 200 City Union of Baltimore employees were affected, most in the Department of Public Works, but said the FOP’s total “seems high.” The city does not know the number of employees impacted because the situation is evolving, she said.

Scott called the situation “unacceptable” during a news conference Friday about the coronavirus vaccine.

“We’ve got to make sure people are getting paid,” he said. “The finance director knows. They have to make this a priority. If they cannot fix this, there are things that will have to happen as a result.”

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Democratic Council President Nick Mosby called Friday for an investigative hearing. In a letter to Scott, Mosby called the city’s workforce the “backbone of our city’s economy.”

“Their contributions keep our city running, and they must be paid accurately and on time so they can continue to provide financially for their homes and families,” Mosby wrote. “Our essential workers deserve a response that is swift, thorough and provides resolution for their grievances.”

The hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 10.

Mavronis has said the city had a system to cut additional checks to people who received less than they were entitled to for a pay period. She said Friday that about 250 employees citywide are slated to get such checks Monday.

Mancuso said Friday that some officers have received such “off-cycle” checks, but the money was not always enough to make officers whole.

Officers, particularly younger members of the force, have missed mortgage and credit card payments as a result, Mancuso said.

Union leadership is seeking legal counsel to consider options for seeking reimbursement from the city for fees incurred by members for short or absent paychecks, Mancuso said.

Scott sent an email Friday to all employees, saying it was “imperative” for the city to switch to an “accountable, up-to-date payroll system.” Until the change, city workers were using paper time sheets.

“I will continue to work with my team until every one of you has accurate, up-to-date paychecks and we can ensure this does not happen again,” Scott wrote.

Baker said the agencies whose employees are represented by the City Union of Baltimore — including the Department of Public Works, the Department of Transportation, the Housing Authority and civilian employees of the police department — have been affected differently.

The union has advocated for members on a case-by-case basis, he said. In some agencies, members have been made whole via off-cycle checks. In others, employees are due six weeks of pay, Baker said.

Union President Antoinette Ryan-Johnson has been working with the mayor and his administration to rectify the issue, Baker said.

In many cases, employees facing the pay issues are the same workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, the city health department acknowledged that contact tracers were among the staff who hadn’t been paid or received full checks. Officials blamed the issue then on the transition to Workday and delays in U.S. Postal Service deliveries.

In mid-January, Finance Director Henry Raymond said all complaints brought to the city had been addressed or were in the process of being addressed. He attributed problems to employees making errors in how they entered their hours. He said other issues arose if employees took leave since the new system was implemented.

Mavronis said the city was prepared under the switch for employees and managers to make mistakes entering and approving hours.

But finance officials are seeing more systemic issues that didn’t pop up during trial runs, including problems related to specific jobs, employees or labor units, Mavronis said.

Mancuso said the system has been incorrectly displaying available leave time for some officers. In other cases, it failed to recognized overtime hours entered by staff, he said.

The training city employees received to use the system was via email, Mancuso noted. The FOP fought the implementation of the system for months before it became active, at times lobbying publicly on social media.

Mavronis said the city also offered webinars as part of the training.

“We’re doing this on the fly instead of doing it correctly,” Mancuso said. “Somebody needs to lose their job.”

City officials sought to upgrade the payroll system in the wake of an audit that showed the police department’s reliance on antiquated systems, including paper time sheets, left it vulnerable to waste and fraud involving overtime. The audit was ordered after a crew of officers were indicted on federal racketeering charges, including allegations that they committed overtime fraud.

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