He wants to get his children gifts they’ll be excited about, but he estimates that his pay over the past month is short about $975, which creates worry during what should be a joyful time of year.
“I haven't done all my Christmas shopping yet,” Hicks told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “With these pay problems, everything starts adding up, credit cards, bills, and we’re already in an economy with inflation going absolutely berserk.”
Hicks, 34, works in the county’s traffic signal department, and says that while his pay problems are causing stress, he makes a better income than some others who are missing pay. He and other county workers he’s talked to estimate that hundreds of county employees are affected.
The problems began in November, when the county switched over to a new payment company called Oracle. Since then, payments have been short for several workers, especially when it comes to overtime.
Ivey Martin, human resource director for the county, told AFSCME Florida union organizer Miguel Gonzalez that there could be multiple reasons for the payment issues.
“The problem was identified on November 10, when the first pay slip generated under the new Oracle Payroll,” Martin wrote in a Dec. 12 email to Gonzalez.
The county was then informed by an Oracle consultant that payroll errors can occur for the first three pay periods. She also said the initial programming problems with payroll had been corrected.
But the email also blamed the payroll discrepancies on "human error," saying that management, payroll coordinators and employees incorrectly submitted timesheets or paid time-off approvals. Martin said that additional training on Oracle would be provided, and that in the meantime the county had found a way to support workers who weren't getting proper paychecks.
“On-demand hardship checks have been provided to employees who were significantly impacted by the payment issues,” Martin wrote.
However, Willie Brinkley, an industrial mechanic for the county, said that the definition of who is “significantly impacted” is up to the county administration, and that it’s been difficult for workers to be made whole through reimbursement checks in a timely manner.
Both Brinkley and Hicks said they’ve had to spend hours running around to different managers and county buildings trying to figure out how to get their pay made right. Some of their missing pay has been delivered, but not all of it. Brinkley shared an email that said a hardship payment was coming this week—but he still hasn't received it.
In that same email thread, Dave Hutchinson, section manager of public utilities administration at the county, was trying to get his co-workers to prioritize Brinkley’s case, after he made several complaints.
“Can you please let me know where we sit on this one, given the season and the amount of time that has passed I really want to get this pushed through,” Hutchinson wrote.
Brinkley, 55, thinks that a majority of county employees have been affected by the pay issues, because most people he’s talked to seem to have had a problem.
“If I go out there on the job and screw up, I’m subject to punishment, no matter what the circumstances may be,” Brinkley told CL. “Who's going to be subjected to punishment for screwing up all of these employees' paychecks? Someone has to be held accountable.”
After this story was published, the Hillsborough County communications sent an email statement about the situation.
"These circumstances are not acceptable at any time of the year, much less the holidays, and county leadership is actively fixing the payroll errors and reimbursing any employees who experienced a shortage in their checks to make the situation right. Hillsborough County has more than 5,500 employees, and the County is working to help them better understand the new Oracle payroll system. We have experienced unforeseen challenges with the new system and have been in constant communication with staff to remedy the situation and address any issues as they are identified. As a result, we have implemented an adjustment or hardship checks program to rectify the issue and make the situation whole. We aren’t aware of employees not receiving overtime pay. However, we welcome staff to express their concerns and questions, so they can be addressed in a timely manner. Hillsborough County will continue to assist staff until all issues with the new system are resolved and rectified."Oracle has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Gonzalez said that AFSCME feels it is “a very disconcerting situation” that county workers find themselves in.
“Bargaining unit employees and supervisor pay have both been affected, right in the middle of the holiday season, and after going above and beyond in the Hurricane Ian recovery process,” Gonzalez said.
He said it’s unfair that on top of waiting for the completion of the market equity study for a possible raise in wages, Hillsborough County employees also have to examine every pay stub to ensure fair pay. Hundreds of Tampa workers received an 18.5% raise this year, but county workers are still waiting on a raise to keep up with the rising cost of living, Gonzalez said.
And the recent payment issues have led to low morale among the employees that he’s talked to.
“I hope that this problem is resolved and that everyone is made whole ASAP so we all can start the new year off on the right foot,” he said.
UPDATE: Updated on 12/21/22 at 6:12 a.m. with a statement from Hillsborough County's communications team.