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Payroll problems that shortchanged some Baltimore employees closer to being fixed, officials say

Baltimore’s self-imposed deadline to fix a payroll problem that has shorted the paychecks of hundreds of city employees came and went Friday even as officials say they are making significant strides.

In a briefing to the members of Baltimore City Council, the city’s top finance, human resources and information technology officials said Friday that they have corrected all but four of the 19 issues that have plagued the city’s transition to new payroll system, Workday.

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To modernize a system previously reliant on paper timesheets, Baltimore moved to Workday in January, but since then hundreds of employees across the city’s 13,000-member workforce have received incomplete paychecks or, in some cases, no pay at all. Other problems have been widely reported, including issues with leave time calculations, allocations to retirement plans and incorrect benefit offerings.

At the height of the payroll problem, city officials documented more than 60 different problems with the transition.

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City finance officials have attempted to make employees whole by cutting “off-cycle” checks, supplemental payments to employees when their standard paychecks are too low. Finance officials reported to City Council during a Feb. 10 hearing that the number of off-cycle checks issued has dropped dramatically. But employees from various departments and the unions representing them say many people are still missing money.

Friday was payday for the Baltimore Police Department, one of the agencies hardest hit by the problem. In January, Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said 800 of his 2,400 members were affected. Mancuso could not be reached Friday for an update.

Other departments most impacted, including the Fire Department, city Health Department and the Department of Public Works, will have to wait to see if the issue has been corrected. They are due to be paid on Feb. 26.

City officials have blamed most of the problems with the transition on human error, either during the input of hours by employees or the approval process by supervisors. But other problems include issues caused by particular fields that were unnecessary in the city’s previous payroll system but are now critical in Workday, such as an employee’s location and supervisory organization.

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During a hearing of the City Council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee on Feb. 10, Baltimore finance officials said they expected to clear up several problems by the end of the day Friday.

A Feb. 26 deadline has been set to correct remaining issues, including cutting more off-cycle checks and the “recovery” of money overpaid to some city employees as a result of the transition. That money is expected to be recouped by deductions to future paychecks, city officials have said.

Stefanie Mavronis, spokeswoman for Mayor Brandon Scott, said the mayor remains focused on making sure the problem is permanently resolved.

“I think their progress since the council hearing less than two weeks ago is good, but we want to make sure we’re in a position to know with some confidence that these issues are fully resolved so we continue to move forward,” Mavronis said.

Councilman Mark Conway, chairman of the Public Safety and Government Operations Committee, said he appreciated the responses from city agency heads to a lengthy list of questions about the payroll issue submitted by City Council.

“We know we need to get this right, and our committee will continue to follow up to ensure we are doing right by city employees.”

The switch to Workday is a three-year project budgeted at approximately $44.4 million. Baltimore paid the company directly for the software, which was a $9.7 million piece of the ultimate price tag. City officials have said they expect a $25 million benefit annually as a result of the improved payroll process, particularly due to its controls on overtime.

The heads of the unions representing Baltimore’s workforce have complained about a lack of communication from city finance officials, even as the issue has persisted.

Rich Langford, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734, which represents the city’s rank-and-file firefighters, said he is concerned the city doesn’t have a feel for the full scope of the problem. Right now, officials are dealing with problems logged by employees who have complained. But there is likely money owed to many more who have not realized it, he said.

“Our members are already down with the problems dealing with COVID every day,” he said. “Everybody understood there’s going to be problems moving to the new system, but now you’re a month and a half into the new system and nothing seems to be correct.”

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