Meet NYCHA’s overtime king: a $315,000 plumber

May 13, 2019 Greg B. Smith, THE CITY
The Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses in The Bronx. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
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This story was originally published on May 13, 2019, by THE CITY

It appears that 2018 proved a very busy year for Vincenzo Giurbino, a plumber with the New York City Housing Authority.

The 65-year-old city worker’s payroll numbers indicated he put in an average 16-hour day every single day he worked — reaping him more than $300,000 in salary and overtime.

According to data obtained by THE CITY, Giurbino recorded 1,835 hours of overtime on top of the 1,449 hours of regular time NYCHA says he clocked fixing toilets and leaky pipes in public housing in Brooklyn.

That puts him in an exclusive category: He’s the only NYCHA worker to clock more overtime than regular hours. And his OT take alone exceeded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s salary.

Giurbino’s big payday came as Housing Authority employees racked up nearly $100 million in overtime last year, toiling in a sprawling public housing system that needs an estimated $32 billion overhaul.

Meanwhile, NYCHA’s overtime pace for this year already is running nearly 20% ahead of 2018.

The rise in OT costs also comes as a federal monitor appointed to settle an investigation that documented years of mismanagement and coverups begins diving into how the agency is run. A new chairperson is expected to soon be appointed to the housing agency, landlord to more than 400,000 New Yorkers.

Asked how Giurbino could have put in 16 hours every day he worked, NYCHA spokesperson Michael Giardina wrote in an email, “Mr. Giurbino’s overtime hours included responding to critical emergency plumbing repairs for residents (leaks, stack stoppages, water and gas service interruptions, heating, etc.) in Brooklyn and across the Mixed-Finance [building] portfolio in 2018.”

Giurbino could not be reached for comment. A person who answered a phone number registered to him hung up Thursday when THE CITY asked about his overtime. A message left with Giurbino’s union, Local 1, was not returned.

A Year’s Work in 206 Days

In 2018, Giurbino took off 42 days, plus 12 holidays, meaning he toiled a total of 206 actual workdays — of a potential 260, excluding weekends.

Still, Giurbino boosted his $93,984 base salary with an extra $213,634 in OT, plus $7,539 in payments listed as “other.” His total pay: $315,158, payroll records show.

That’s more than ex-NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye’s $231,000 salary and more than Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $258,000. Giurbino’s overtime wages bested Cuomo’s newly hiked salary of $200,000.

The hourly rate for NYCHA plumbers like Giurbino ranged from $232 to $378 last year, set by law to match similar private sector rates. Overtime is time-and-a-half and sometimes double-time, so the financial consequences of unfettered plumber OT are profound for an agency scrounging for money.

Many NYCHA trade workers besides plumbers — including maintenance workers, elevator inspectors and electricians — earn significant overtime. But plumbers drive the dollar figures. Last year, they accounted for $11 million of the $98.6 million in NYCHA’s total OT, an analysis of payroll data shows.

Although overtime rises and falls in response to specific crises — 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, for instance — the tab is trending upward. NYCHA’s overtime bill has jumped 35% since 2015.

That’s left NYCHA with the highest overtime payments of any non-uniformed services agency — far ahead of the $60.9 million in OT collected by child welfare workers or the $64.6 million racked up by Department of Transportation workers patching city streets, payroll records reviewed by THE CITY show.

And 2019 is expected to be even higher: from January through April, NYCHA spent $39 million on OT. At that rate, the agency will drop a record $117 million by year’s end.

“It’s definitely inefficient,” says Sean Campion, a researcher at the Citizens Budget Commission. “A lot of these things are political responses. A couple of years ago it was a response to an exposé on the backlog of [repair] tickets. Now it’s coming back up again largely driven by the need to make more repairs.”

Weekend Work Blitzes

NYCHA officials blamed last year’s OT bill on weekend work-order blitzes, when the agency hits specific developments with teams to chip away at an intimidating backlog of repair requests.

They also pointed to the amped-up effort to avoid a repeat of the disastrous 2017-2018 winter, when 300,000 tenants endured at least some heat outages during a particularly nasty freeze.

During this heating system campaign, NYCHA put most staff on call around the clock, and opened a command center to field complaints of boiler failures during the January winter vortex. NYCHA also increased its reliance on two private-sector contractors, G.S. Hall and National Grid, to manage boiler plants at some developments.

A boiler in the Queensbridge Houses from December 2018. Photo: Sammy Mayo Jr. for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/Flickr
A boiler in the Queensbridge Houses from December 2018. Photo: Sammy Mayo Jr. for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/Flickr

The number of heat and hot water service interruptions dropped from 4,409 in the 2017-2018 winter season to 3,317 this past winter. The average outage lasted 24 hours last season, compared to 8 hours this time around.

Although tenants of one development, the Sotomayor Houses in the Bronx, experienced 34 unplanned hot water outages and 20 unplanned heat outages this winter, which took an average of 18.5 hours to address, they were the exception. Systemwide, it took NYCHA an average of eight hours to remedy heat failures.

The OT for heating-related staff rose only slightly, from the $3.73 million spent during the 2017-2018 heat season to $3.79 million this heat season. But the use of private companies to help manage boiler plants greatly expanded, rising from $1.23 million in 2017 to $4.8 million in 2018, with another $16 million budgeted for this year.

“NYCHA has implemented multiple strategies to respond to residents’ needs 24 hours a day,” said Giardina, the agency spokesperson.

A Drop in Workforce

Last July, a Citizens Budget Commission report noted that the number of some trade workers has diminished in recent years. That forces management to rely “on a small number of higher paid workers, often with high rates of overtime, to clear work orders in a timely fashion.”

Campion of the Citizens Budget Commission notes that NYCHA recently has tried to expand worker hours for maintenance and trade staff through labor negotiations. The goal: to go beyond the traditional 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekday-only schedule by creating split shifts and adding hours in the early morning and evening, as well as on weekends.

The results have been mixed: 1,200 caretakers represented by Teamsters Local 237 who do light repairs embraced the expanded hours deal last year. But on Wednesday, 1,000 maintenance workers who do more complex repairs shot it down.

“They’re trying to do this, but they haven’t been able to do the same thing with the skilled trades,” Campion said. “Particularly the plumbers. They are working between on average 600 to 800 hours of OT a year and those numbers are going higher for supervisors. I don’t know how people are getting assigned to those shifts.”

NYCHA spokesperson Giardina said the authority is now “exploring” expanded hours for trades employees, including plumbers.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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