Thousands of Oregon state employees are still receiving incorrect paychecks, three months after the state implemented a new payroll system.
Employees have filed a second lawsuit, demanding the state immediately fix the errors and provide an accurate accounting of their pay. An initial lawsuit was filed in late January.
“It’s pure terror for a lot of people,” Elena Martinez, a correctional officer at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, said. “I’ve had nurses quit because they didn’t get paid and they were so frustrated. Nobody’s ever going to trust the state again.”
Martinez, president of the Association of Oregon Corrections Employees, is one of eight plaintiffs in the newest lawsuit, filed Feb. 28 in Marion County Circuit Court.
“This is chaos,” she said.
Payroll problems are improving, Berri Leslie, interim director of the state Department of Administrative Services, told state legislators during a committee hearing last week.
There were 2,151 employees impacted by payroll issues in March, compared with 2,767 in February and 4,500 in January, Leslie said.
“It is nothing short of courageous to take on information technology projects in state government,” Berri said of payroll project staff. “It is a really difficult climate to do this work.”
Problems not anticipated
The state’s new payroll system, called Workday, went live Dec. 1, serving about 45,000 employees. The previous system was built in the 1980s.
The first paychecks under the new system were issued Jan. 3.
Employees associated with Oregon AFSCME filed the first lawsuit, on Jan. 30, in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
It claims tens of thousands of employees were affected by errors.
According to that lawsuit, employees experienced missing or late paychecks; incorrect pay rates; incorrect and excess deductions for retirement, health and dental benefits; misreporting of wages to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System; incorrect accrual and deductions from vacation and leave banks; and late payments to employees at retirement or end of employment.
The second lawsuit lists the same problems. It also claims court-mandated deductions, such as those for child support, were not properly taken out of paychecks, and that employees who had previously used direct deposit were sent paper checks and had to wait for them to clear.
Joyce Martinez, project manager for the state’s Workday payroll program, told legislators there was no indication there would be the kinds of issues listed in the lawsuit before the system went live.
“We were fine-tuning the system all along. Any kind of issues we ran into, we fixed them ahead of go-live,” she said. “We did anticipate there would be something that we hadn’t anticipated happening after go-live, but we couldn’t anticipate specifically the kinds of issues that we ran into.”
State officials say all the payroll errors from January and February have been fixed.
“However, employees are still working out repayment plans with their agencies to return overpayments they experienced. Employees who were underpaid have been made whole,” DAS said in written information provided to legislators.
But employees say that’s not true.
“Many people still have their schedules wrong in the system and the state can’t figure out how to fix them, leading to very large overpayments,” David Kreisman, public affairs manager for Oregon AFSCME Council 75, said.
“Corrections submitted back to January pay are still not fixed. Taxes are still messed up for many. Overtime rates are off for many,” he said.
Pati Urias, communications director for SEIU Local 503, said things are still a mess for her union members.
“There are fewer problems, but errors continue to happen, such as taxes not being collected on smaller checks (overtime, people on leave, etc.) and the process to recoup overpayments is still a problem,” Urias said.
“Workers are confused about the new pay slips, and they are worried that they will continue to experience problems with each pay period,” she said.
Elena Martinez, with the correction worker’s union, said every one of her approximately 800 members have had payroll issues.
“About 60% of my membership is very young. They live check to check. A lot have young families and a single income,” she said.
“They just say ‘we’re working on it.’ That’s not cutting it anymore. There’s multiple violations of our contracts. People are so frustrated. It just breaks my heart.”
More than 1,000 time codes
Joyce Martinez, the Workday project manager, said the system has mostly been used in the private sector. Oregon is the first state to fully adopt it.
Part of the problem is that Oregon’s pay rules are different than those of most Workday customers, Martinez told legislators.
For example, Oregon pays its employees monthly.
“Pretty much everyone else out there in the United States pays every two weeks,” she said. “We also forecast during the last week of the month, so there’s always corrections that are occurring in that last week after payroll.
Oregon also has many pay codes, which vary by department and employee, for things like overtime, shift differentials or comp time.
“The vast number of time-tracking rules that the state of Oregon has was probably the issue,” Martinez said. “We have over 30-some labor unions. They all have different time-tracking rules. Department of Corrections, at least a thousand on their own. It’s vast.”
Most Oregon state employees are salaried and overtime eligible, Martinez said.
“In most places, overtime-eligible employees are hourly and not salaried,” she said.
“So, there was a lot of unique things that Oregon does and has that had to be configured and some of them were very tricky,” she said.
Short on grocery money
Patty Larios, 35, is a direct support crisis specialist at the state’s stabilization and crisis unit in Salem.
Larios said she has direct deposit and auto pay for her bills, and ended up with a negative balance in her bank account and overdraft fees before she realized what was going on.
She considers herself lucky because she has savings and credit cards and was able to maneuver money around to pay her bills. But she’s been short on grocery money for her family of seven.
And it’s taken her hours to figure out all the errors in her pay, and to shuffle money around to meet her obligations, she said. She estimates the state still owes her at least $800.
“My salary rate was incorrect, my overtime rate was incorrect, my overtime was not paid. My shift differential was not paid. My comp time was not added to my pay,” she said. “As of now, the issue has not been resolved.”
Tracy Loew covers the environment at the Statesman Journal. Send comments, questions and tips email@example.com, 503-399-6779. Follow her on Twitter at@Tracy_Loew