Phila. school district union goes to court over pay problems (computer snafu)greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
November 17, 1999
Phila. school district union goes to court over payroll problems
By Susan Snyder INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Frustrated by ongoing problems with payroll, Philadelphia School District union leaders yesterday complained to a Common Pleas Court judge, seeking $10,000 a day in damages.
Judge Pamela Dembe, who met privately with school district and union lawyers for more than an hour, did not order the district to pay damages.
But she did require that the district take steps to resolve problems as swiftly as possible, and she scheduled meetings for today and Monday so that she could monitor progress.
The transition to the district's new $26 million payroll, purchasing and human-resources system has caused some employees to go without paychecks and others to receive incorrect amounts.
Union officials say thousands of workers have been affected; the district says the problem is not that widespread.
Although problems have persisted since September, Dembe said she did not think the district should be fined at this point.
"We didn't even get into that," she said in an interview after the meeting. "This isn't the sort of thing where someone is intentionally pouring soda into the computers or trying to deprive people of their paychecks."
She also did not order an independent audit of the payroll, or appoint a "master" to oversee the payroll system. Both were requested by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, School Police Association of Philadelphia, and the School Employees' Local 1201 covering bus drivers, custodians and others.
Dembe said that she saw both as too time-consuming and that cooperation among all parties would be a better way to resolve the problem.
"I just can't imagine who you could bring in from the outside who could wave a wand and learn everything they had to learn and solve the problem," she said.
Union officials said they were pleased that the judge has agreed to oversee the situation. "Basically we have a judge who will be riding herd on the payroll system," said Ralph Teti, a lawyer for the three unions.
Dembe also told the district to send written notices to employees explaining adjustments and changes in paychecks and computer codes, to help reduce confusion.
She said the district should offer personnel at cluster offices to help with payroll problems, as well as provide employees with transportation to the district's downtown administration building if necessary.
Dembe said the district should consult with banks that would be open late enough next Wednesday - the day before Thanksgiving - to help employees who might have problems with their checks that are scheduled to be issued that day. And she advised the district to have some staff on duty the Friday after Thanksgiving to help with any payroll problems.
Union officials said late last month it appeared that payroll problems were being resolved. But last week's checks showed that the problem is at least as bad as it was in the beginning, they said.
PFT leaders said they felt they had no recourse but to go to court. School police and Local 1201 also complained in court previously about the system.
"It's out of complete and utter frustration that we've done this," Teti said.
Added PFT president Ted Kirsch: "It's getting close to Thanksgiving. Our people need to get these checks."
Thomas Doyle, president of Local 1201, said some employees have had large amounts of federal taxes deducted from their checks for no apparent reason.
He also noted that the district owes the union's health and welfare fund money because the computer system has not properly distinguished between 10-month and 12-month employees.
Deborah Willig, a lawyer for the unions, said the district brought a health and welfare fund check for $90,000 to the meeting with the judge, but then district lawyers said it was the wrong amount. Willig said she wanted the new check with the correct amount and documentation to back it up by today.
"If the check they give us tomorrow is in error, they're going to pay interest," Willig said.
The district also plans to reissue checks for shoe allowances to union workers no later than Monday, she said.
Some workers had taxes and other deductions wrongly taken from their allowances. District officials also are expected to come back to the judge with a "drop dead" date on when extracurricular pay and pay for night school employees will be rectified, she said.
The unions will repeat their request to the judge for fines and an audit if all issues are not resolved adequately, Willig said.
Dembe said both sides seem to be willing to work together to resolve the issues.
"There's a lot of real practical suggestions, not a lot of rhetoric and bombast," she said.
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 17, 1999
Tuesday November 16, 6:54 pm Eastern Time
Company Press Release
SOURCE: Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Judge Directs Philadelphia School District to Fix Payroll Problems, Says Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- In response to a lawsuit filed today by the School District's three largest labor unions, Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe directed the School District of Philadelphia to take immediate steps to fix problems that have resulted in thousands of district employees being underpaid or not paid at all since last summer.
``Payday has become synonymous with disaster day for school employees,'' said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Ted Kirsch. ``I was pleased that the judge showed extreme sensitivity, saying that people deserve to be paid on time. She didn't want to hear excuses; Judge Dembe simply directed the district to get employees paid the correct amount and on time.''
The PFT, the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers Local 1201 and the School Police Association sued the district today seeking $10,000 per day in penalties from the district until all of the payroll problems have been corrected. The unions, which represent 25,000 of the district's 30,000 employees, also asked:
That all employees be paid immediately everything they are owed dating back to last summer; That the school district hire an independent accounting firm to audit every payroll check for every union member to ensure that wages, benefits and deductions are correct; That the school district pay damages to employees hurt by failure to pay employees. Many employees were charged enormous returned check fees, interest and late charges when the district deposited and then withdrew paychecks from employees' bank accounts without their knowledge or permission; That a special master is appointed to oversee the district's payroll functions.
Judge Dembe brokered an agreement that directs the district to take specific steps to ensure that all employees are paid correctly and promptly.
``It is nearly Thanksgiving, and there is no indication that the payroll system will ever be fixed,'' said lawyer Ralph Teti of Willig, Williams and Davidson, which represents all three unions. ``Essentially the judge directed the district to establish a failsafe system to correct problems as they arise, and the judge will monitor the district to make sure the district finds a way to get people paid.''
Lawyer Deborah Willig explained the judge's directive after an hour-and-a- half, closed-door meeting in Dembe's chambers. She said the judge directed the district to come up with a plan by 3:00 p.m. Wednesday on how it would deploy staff and resources to expeditiously address payroll problems.
The district was told to deploy staff and computers to a number of cluster offices and to John F. Kennedy Center to process payroll questions. The district will have to provide or pay for transportation for employees should they need to travel to district headquarters at 21st Street to obtain a paycheck. It also will pay bank charges, late fees and write letters to credit bureaus for employees whose credit was damaged because of the district's actions.
The parties will meet later this week to determine why some employees are being taxed at rates as high as 56 percent for federal withholding and to issue new checks for those who need them.
The district also must give the judge on Wednesday a firm date when employees will receive their pay for night school, extra-curricular activity, second jobs and other classifications where hundreds of people have been paid little or nothing since September.
School district staff will work the day after Thanksgiving to help those who are not paid correctly next week, and some banks will be asked to remain open late next Wednesday to accommodate employees who must have checks reissued.
``The school district would have had the judge believe that the payroll problems numbered in the dozens,'' Willig said. ``I've represented unions for almost 25 years and I've never seen payroll problems like this year.''
``The judge saw that there are real problems that deeply affect union members,'' Willig said. The school district has absolutely no credibility with employees that their paychecks will be on time and correct. It will have to earn back the trust of employees now.``
SOURCE: Philadelphia Federation of Teachers
Related News Categories: education
-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), November 17, 1999.
Homer, you da man!
-- keep posting (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 17, 1999.
If this were my employer, I'd quit with no notice as soon as I lined up another job. Their poor judgement/ineptness at business administration doesn't relieve them of the obligation to pay their employees in full and on time. These clowns have unilaterally broken any ties of obligation these victimized teachers had to them. When they don't pay you what they owe you, don't work for them.
-- MinnesotaSmith (email@example.com), November 17, 1999.
Hey! maybe they can install SAP and get it fixed, in say, 2-3 days. They can call Hershey's right down the road for advice!
-- Nemo (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 17, 1999.