State calls for changes in UW overtime pay

SEATTLE -- Pricey overtime pay has exploded on the University of Washington's Seattle campus, and now the state is asking for changes.

As we originally {A href=""}reported last month, two UW employees reported what some have called excessive and unneeded overtime hours. There were also allegations that workers did everything from browse Facebook to play fantasy football on the taxpayers dime.

The culprits come from the university's Signal Systems office, where employees are responsible for fixing alarms on campus.

The Problem Solvers looked through thousands of pay stubs from the last three years, and some staggering numbers surfaced.

One worker had 549 hours of overtime in just one year, which averages out to two hours of overtime for every day he worked. Another employee had a staggering 916 hours of overtime, which means he claimed three hours of OT every day.

"It raises a question," said State Auditor Brian Sonntag. "Who's watching those tax dollars?"

Sonntag said the whistleblower's allegations focused on false overtime and excessive hours.

UW facilities manager Charles Kennedy said recent expansion at the university forced his hand and mandatory overtime was the only way to go.

"It was appropriate for what we needed to get done," he said. "These were our best and most efficient leaders."

Kennedy brushes aside the idea that hiring another employee could have saved money, saying two men making the bulk of overtime was better.

"We found it to be the most cost-effective and beneficial way for the University," he said.

One thing the state audit found was that there was no benefit to the university for its workers to visit thousands of personal websites while at work.

"Personal email, social networking, fantasy football," Sonntag said.

In one example of that behavior, an employee spent an estimated three hours and forty minutes on personal business in one day alone.

"You just kind of have a lapse in judgment of what might look bad to the public," said Tim Welch of the Washington Federation of State Employees.

The executive board will continue to investigate the issue, but the state could not find any proof to back up claims that workers actually falsified overtime.

Whistleblower Don Stephens said he and others provided eyewitness accounts of the abuse.

"I was kind of shocked. I was disappointed," Stephens said.

But the audit did call for the university to review its overtime policies to make sure there is proper control.

"They shouldn't dust that off," Sonntag said. "They shouldn't laugh it off. It's something to be taken very seriously."

A very serious call for change with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake.

The man who approved all that overtime recently retired, but the audit found his actions to be appropriate.

There is still disciplinary action pending for all the personal use of state computers.