(The Center Square) – In 2020, overtime cost Oregon's Employment Department more money than President Joe Biden is paid per year while thousands of unemployed Oregonians wait on benefits.
Records obtained by The Center Square show employees earned $430,065 in overtime pay working at the OED in 2019. That's equal to working 33,370 hours on Oregon's $12.75 minimum wage. In 2020, that number was almost 10 times more or just over $4 million in overtime pay.
Those earnings came from a total of 1,127 employees eligible for overtime at the state agency in 2020. Altogether, they worked 77,027 hours of overtime, with an average of 68 hours per employee. Some worked far longer hours.
According to OED data, the most any employee earned in overtime pay last year was $34,640, and the most overtime they worked was 631.5 hours or 26.3 days. A total of 93 employees earned more than $10,000 working overtime in 2020.
That overtime pay is on top of base salaries, which average $63,720 between the agency's lowest and highest paid jobs. For example, office coordinators earn $31,704 per year and information systems specialists earn $95,736 to start, based on public state salary data.
For the past 17 months, the OED has been the target of intense public criticism for its long wait times and less than desirable customer service. In March, its 28-year-old computer servers were inundated with 243,000 jobless claims and it has since buckled under the strain of thousands of hours of phone calls. The OED has seen its budget increased by 4% to $337.4 million for the current biennium and processed more than a million claims since the onset of the pandemic.
OED Director David Gerstenfeld has blamed labor shortages for the slow current response times.
Oregon was one of the slowest states in the nation at processing unemployment claims last year, falling far behind federal labor standards.
Statewide, the job market has picked up for Oregonians since Oregon reopened. Unemployment peaked at 14.3% in March 2020 and fell to 5.6% in June, or two points above pre-pandemic levels. Businesses will start 2022 with tax relief too. Oregon's surging COVID cases and backlog of housing relief payments threaten the state's improved outlook.
The OED has begun the process of modernizing its computer system after hiring a third-party contractor. It expects the process to be completed by 2025.