Managers’ extra pay is sore spot among overworked Oregon state caregivers

Salaried managers of caregivers get extra pay when they work overtime, even as incentive pay for caregivers has ended

By: - March 21, 2023 4:14 pm

(left to right) Chris Edwards and Saihou Suwaneh, two Oregon Department of Human Services workers, participate in an informational picket on March 9, 2023 in front of the agency's headquarters in Salem. Employees in the agency's unit that provides 24-hour residential care to vulnerable residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities are concerned about long hours and worker safety. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon Department of Human Services caregivers who tend to the state’s most vulnerable saw their paychecks shrink last spring when the state ended a temporary pay bump intended to help staffing levels and reward employees.

But managers, salaried employees who generally earn more than the caregivers they supervise, continue to receive extra hourly pay when they work overtime and cover the shifts of rank-and-file workers. The department is seeking to extend extra pay for managers who supervise workers in the agency’s 20 group homes that serve about 100 Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Extra pay for managers has emerged as a sore spot among the agency’s caregivers, who are negotiating a new labor contract with the state through their union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union Local 1246. Frontline caregivers saw their pandemic-related incentive pay – an extra $6 per hour for weekday shifts and $14 per hour for weekend shifts – disappear nearly a year ago in April. Yet they continue to shoulder the brunt of a staffing shortage, working mandatory overtime, multiple double shifts and face burnout.

Meanwhile, managers are in charge of the schedule – and whether a caregiver has to work a mandatory overtime shift. 

“They get to create the schedule and then they get to dictate if we’re getting mandated or not,” said Christina Sydenstricker-Brown, a caregiver in a Salem group home and the union president for her unit. “And what is an emergency, what isn’t an emergency and if they’re gonna come in and do it or not. And we’re just stuck on: OK, well, we don’t have the numbers we need. So we’re getting mandated. And that’s just the reality of the work we do.”

The state Department of Human Services, however, defends extra pay for managers, saying it’s necessary to compensate them for taking on extra shifts and boost morale for managers who worked overtime without a bump in salary.

“Managers who have left their roles cited the need to fill floor shifts, in addition to managerial responsibilities, as a reason for leaving their positions,” Tom Mayhall Rastrelli, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said in an email.

More than 600 state employees work in the group homes, which stretch from Portland to Eugene and provide 24-hour residential care through the Oregon Department of Human Services’ Stabilization and Crisis Unit.

Front-line worker concerns persist

At the same time, front-line caregivers are sounding an alarm with the agency about the need for more pay. 

New employees earn a base salary as low as $20 an hour, or the equivalent. Separately, caregivers still receive overtime pay when they work beyond 40 hours. Agency staff say the pay rate isn’t enough to attract and retain people for high-pressure, demanding jobs.

In February, the agency’s vacancy rate for front-line caregivers was nearly 11%. 

Other data show:

  • 301 staff worked 5,020 hours of mandatory overtime in July 2022, an average of about 16 hours per employee.
  • Voluntary overtime adds many more hours: 565 staff worked 19,471 hours that same month. That’s about 34 hours per employee.
  • In July 2022, 24 employees missed nearly 2,011 hours of work because of injuries. That’s an average of nearly 84 hours per employee.
  • Between seven and 37 staffers missed work every month from July 2021 to July 2022 due to injuries.

The agency has said it takes safety seriously and reviews all incidents to learn from them. The agency also has said it has stepped up efforts to recruit more staff, including an increased presence at job fairs, and it plans to make same-day job offers to qualified applicants during a May hiring event.

Sydenstricker-Brown said the state needs to invest more in its workers, adding that the last offer in ongoing negotiations fails to accomplish that.

“They don’t want to put a dollar sign behind the hours that we work,” Sydenstricker-Brown said.

Inside push for manager pay

Meanwhile, extra pay for managers started in October, six months after the differential pay for front-line caregivers ended.

In July 2022, the Oregon Department of Human Services began pushing for salaried managers in that division, called the Stabilization and Crisis Unit, to get a differential pay when they work beyond 40 hours and cover the shifts of frontline workers, public records show. The agency, when fully staffed, has 33 positions for salaried supervisors.

In its proposal, the agency asked the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees the state’s payroll, to pay managers when they work beyond 40 hours a week and assume the work of front-line workers. 

The agency submitted a joint request to the Department of Administrative Services with the Oregon Youth Authority because both agencies faced the same challenges: staffing 24-hour facilities with high turnover rates, mandated overtime and increased vacancies.

The state’s administrative agency approved the request for both agencies, citing the need to address critical staffing shortages.

It meant managers in the human services agency would receive an hourly flat rate of $30.31, the top of the pay scale for experienced caregivers, when they worked beyond 40 hours a week as a front-line caregiver, records show. 

For an extra eight-hour shift, it’s the equivalent of $242. For two hours or less, it’s $61.

State officials put conditions on the extra pay. Managers still had to work at least 51% of their total weekly hours doing management duties.  And the extra pay would only last until Dec. 31, unless the department requested an extension.

On Dec. 30, the department of human services and youth authority did so. 

A 16-page request to the state administrative agency showed:

  • Managers had worked 117 shifts totaling 872 hours and earned slightly more than $26,000 in differential payments.
  • Prior to the added pay for managers, supervisors worked extra shifts without compensation and morale is at “an all-time low.”
  • Supervisors took extended leave and reported medical and mental health issues due to the stress.
  • The staffing crisis at the unit led to $13.5 million in overtime through November 2022 for the current two-year budget cycle. In December, state officials projected it would be more than $20 million by this June.

The Department of Administrative Services granted the request for an extension, this time through March 31, records show.

Department of Human Services to seek extension 

The human services agency plans to seek an extension, a spokesperson said Monday.

That answer came after nearly a week of questions from the Capital Chronicle.

Last week, with the end of March just two weeks away, Oregon Department of Human Services spokespeople repeatedly declined to say whether the agency was considering extending extra pay for managers. 

Instead, agency spokespeople insisted that the state Department of Administrative Services handled decisions about compensation – without acknowledging that requests for extra pay and extensions originate with the human services agency.

Only after the Capital Chronicle complained about the lack of transparency and filed a public records request did the agency respond. 

“ODHS is working on a request to DAS to extend the management differential pay. I’m sorry we were not able to answer this last week – this decision was just confirmed this morning,” communications director Lisa Morawski wrote in a Monday email.

Oregon Youth Authority opts against extension

The Oregon Youth Authority, in comparison, won’t seek to extend extra pay for managers beyond the end of March, said Sarah Evans, a spokesperson for the agency. Youth authority managers had received $7,500 in extra payments and worked more than 228 hours through November, records show.

Extra manager pay was one of several approaches the agency took to relieve staffing at MacLaren Youth Facility, which can hold up to 271 male youth in Woodburn.

“We do not have data about how the manager differential pay specifically helped staffing at the facility,” Evans said in an email.

The youth authority also temporarily closed  a unit to reduce mandatory shifts, partnered with other facilities to get staffers to cover shifts, and offered hiring bonuses. 

“Most recently, our number of vacancies and mandated overtime shifts at MacLaren has decreased, although this is still an ongoing issue that we are working to address,” Evans said.


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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from the Midwest to Idaho for his first journalism job. Botkin has won multiple awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.