Charleston Gazette-Mail, August 26, 2015

By Phil Kabler, Statehouse Reporter

State employees stand to lose millions of dollars in wages because of a quirk in switching state pay periods from twice monthly to biweekly, according to the findings of an employee grievance.

The mid-year switch from 24 pay periods a year to 26 is prompting a series of grievances filed by employees who’ve discovered they will receive 25 paychecks in the switchover year, and apparently will not be paid their full salaries, Gordon Simmons with UE Local 170 of the West Virginia Public Workers Union said.

“Everyone I’ve seen is talking about $200 or more of losses,” he said.

“We could be talking about millions in lost wages,” he added.

With the state Budget Office reporting 37,597 permanent state employees in July, an average loss of $200 in wages each could total more than $7.5 million.

One of the first employee grievances over the change was filed by Department of Transportation employee David Harper Gardner Jr., and 23 other division employees, who were in the first “wave” of employees switched to biweekly paychecks in June.

In exhibits accompanying the grievance, Gardner noted that his salary of $33,180 works out to semi-monthly gross pay of $1,382.50, or biweekly pay of $1,276.15.

For calendar year 2015, Gardner stated that he received 10 semi-monthly payments totaling $13,825, and will receive 15 biweekly payments totaling $19,142.25 for total pay for the year of $32,967.25 – or $212.75 less than his salary.

“It was just mind-blowing when I started doing the math,” Gardner said Tuesday. “Either everybody was too stupid to see it, or it was malicious.”

In his grievance, Gardner stated, “Converting from semi-monthly to biweekly in the middle of the year will result in a shortage of annual pay… This situation is deeply troubling.”

Gardner said his payroll administrator told him there would be no loss of pay because state employee salaries are on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year calendar, not a traditional calendar year.

However, Gardner noted that when he calculated his pay on a fiscal year basis, he came up with the same $212.75 shortfall.

In the Level I grievance hearing, evaluator Stacey Fragile denied Gardner’s grievance – while conceding his premise of shorted pay appears to be correct.

“The exhibits admitted during the Level I hearing do show that, at least on paper, there will be a shortfall experienced by the grievants of varying amounts,” Fragile wrote.

“While the grievants have met their burden of proof in this matter, unfortunately, the respondent does not have the ability or authority to correct the alleged pay shortage. Therefore this grievance must be denied as the proper parties were not joined in this matter,” Fragile added in her decision to deny the grievance.

Gardner said Tuesday he considers the Level I hearing – within the agency – as a friendly hearing necessary to get the issue to Level II mediation.

The Level II hearing will add the Division of Personnel, state auditor and treasurer’s office, and the board that oversees the wvOasis program as respondents, he said.

The change in pay periods was prompted by the state’s switch from processing payroll on the EPICS computer to the wvOasis supercomputer system.

Justin Southern, spokesman for the auditor’s office, said officials with wvOasis will be issuing a statement regarding concerns with the payroll switchover later this week. However, he said his understanding is that employees will not be losing pay because of the change.

“When it comes down to it, nobody’s getting shorted pay,” he said. “It just comes down to pay timing.”

However, Gardner contends that any pay losses in the transition year cannot be made up in the next year, when employees will receive their normal salary over 26 pay periods.

Gardner said he has calculated that employees who switched pay periods in the first wave in June will lose the equivalent of six days’ wages.

For employees living paycheck-to-paycheck, he said, “That would be devastating.”