Supervisors deny overtime pay for ambulance director Jeremy Peck

By Mary Zielinski
Posted 1/4/22

After four months of debate and discussion, the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 4 voted 3-2 not to pay Ambulance Department Director Jeremy Peck approximately $9,000 for 180 …

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Supervisors deny overtime pay for ambulance director Jeremy Peck

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After four months of debate and discussion, the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 4 voted 3-2 not to pay Ambulance Department Director Jeremy Peck approximately $9,000 for 180 overtime hours incurred between September to November 2021. Peck, who is a salaried employee, covered nighttime and weekend shifts when the department experienced an employee/ paramedic shortage. Jack Seward, Jr. and Marcus Fedler voted to pay the overtime.

During the meeting, the board considered the Memorandum from consulting attorney Willliam J. Sueppel of Iowa City, who wrote about the concern that additional compensation could cause the director to lose his “exempt” status under the Fair Labor Standards Act: “The Fair Labor Standards Act provides that non-exempt employees must be paid time and a half for all hours worked over 40 hours per week.  As the director of a major department of the county, the ambulance director is expected to work more than 40 hours per week, when necessary. Losing the exempt status and having to pay overtime to the director could cause the department’s payroll to increase of unsustainable levels.”

He further noted that “…exempt employees may be paid additional compensation for going above and beyond normal work duties and hours” and “this additional compensation would, in most instances, not cause the director to lose his exempt status…”

In earlier discussions, the board had indicated that the hours were “above and beyond” and should be compensated. Seward reiterated that situation Tuesday and previously had noted it was an unusual situation and not “setting a precedent.”

However, during a work session in December, attended by 16 county department heads, the question arose about similar pay for other department heads. At that time, Chairman Richard Young noted if it was done for one, “we do it for all.”

During the nearly two-hour session, it was noted the board was told about the employee shortage in August, as well as having to compete with higher paying hospitals and clinics for paramedics. Since then, the board approved a higher competitive pay scale which Peck said Tuesday has resulted in more applications and hirings. Last week, it also voted a 10% wage increase, effective July 1 with 7% and January 1, 2023 with an additional 3% for fiscal 2022-23. Peck stressed that he did not seek overtime, but it was the right thing to do.

Supervisor Stan Stoops, acknowledging the difficulties of the employee shortage and thanking Peck for his actions, refereed to possible precedence setting in a job that often requires extra hours, likening the move to “opening a can of worms” in regard to all departments. He also said that he would vote no on the compensation.

Fiedler cautioned about “burning out people” regarding overtime and then not paying for it and had, in a December 6 work session, stressed the need for flexibility for county officials to perform their jobs.

The board also discussed a new policy regarding “above and beyond” and compensation for it; however, it was noted that the departments’ needs are not identical, something Fedler in the December 6 session likened to “squeezing a round peg into a square hole.”

Just prior to the vote, Peck told the board, “If you don’t want to pay me, don’t pay me. But I will still come in and still work.” He also cautioned about giving mandatory extra hours against employees’ wills, adding, “You get what you pay for.”

He stressed the department is a new one, only a year and a half old (and operating throughout the COVID pandemic), and that “We’re not done yet” in providing services.

Seward then moved to pay for time incurred from September to November at $25 per hour. The motion was defeated.

Following discussion of changes for the Ambulance Service Policy Manual, the board approved one scheduling section revision, but tabled the remainder, including holiday pay, to next week’s meeting.

Peck then, told the board, “Every time we try to do something for the ambulance service, we run into a concrete wall. There is always somebody pointing fingers. We are not negative people, we are positive,” stressing he sought support but has gotten “way too much drama.”

“We are a new entity, not like any other in the county,” he said, stressing “there is always somebody pulling on us.” He concluded that the service “has done a lot of good.” He then quietly left the meeting.

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