The latest local public agency to be hit by the automated payroll blues is the Alameda County Medical Center.
Nurses representing Service Employees International Union Local 616 blasted ACMC’s Kronos automated time reporting system at the last meeting of the medical center’s board of trustees, saying that union officials had received more than 40 recent complaints, and that “some people are missing hours and some people are missing whole pay periods.” The representatives said that the automated system had messed up some workers’ hours so much that “some people have been dropped into part-time status, causing them to lose access to participation in the center’s health care plan.”
Kronos is a Massachussetts-based workforce management company that was hired to take over operation of the medical center’s payroll system during the administration of since-departed Cambio Health Care Solutions.
One nurse representative called the payroll problems “criminal” and a “violation of state labor laws.” Using the slang name for a beat-up automobile, the representative asked, “Did we buy a Cadillac system (from Kronos), or did we buy a hooptie?”
Labor representatives told trustees that workers had been barred from making complaints about payroll problems directly to the center’s finance department.” They said that the problem was centered mainly among nurses working in the center’s John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro.
ACMC Chief Financial Officer Geoff Dottery admitted “some glitches in implementing” the new payroll system and said that his office was working on the problem, but medical center trustees appeared unimpressed.
“We’ve heard this report too many times,” Trustee Board President J. Bennett Tate told Dottery and ACMC CEO Wright Lassiter. “This cannot go on. The trustee board cannot be involved with the everyday operations of the medical center, but we can let you know that we find something unacceptable. If it happened to me, I’d be angry, too.”
Center administrators are expected to report back on efforts to solve the payroll problem at the next trustee meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 28.
A posting on the SEIU Local 616 website in early February headlined “Kronos payroll problems worse than expected” said that “although [human resources] management promised to fix problems plaguing the Kronos payroll systems, problems have gotten worse, not better. . . . SEIU stewards have identified 130 errors at Highland [Hospital] alone.” The SEIU report also noted that “while SEIU stewards were gathering information on payroll errors, HR paced a Local 616 steward on administrative leave for doing her job representing our members. SEIU representatives walked out of a meeting with HR when ACMC refused to reinstate the steward.”
Vice President of Human Resources Bill Mattox was placed on administrative leave himself by the center on March 3. Mattox was not available for comment, and personnel privacy laws did not permit center officials to comment on whether the action was related to the payroll problems.
In a prepared statement released this week, CFO Dottery said that the center has “significantly improved our service to employees, expanding walk-in service hours in the payroll department, and making a pledge that any paycheck discrepancies for the current pay period will be rectified within three hours. For previous pay periods, discrepancies will be fixed within three days.”
In a letter to SEIU representatives earlier this month, Dottery said that he was “now very aware of the technical and service issues that need to be addressed immediately. . . . I am recommending that we continue with the Kronos implementation. However, in order to do this successfully, we will implement several changes . . . to give you confidence that employees will be paid correctly and on time.”
Among those listed changes was one to create a reception desk in the payroll department for workers to resolve complaints, and to assign payroll clerks to work directly with unit managers to “help resolve Kronos operational issues.”
But Dottery did not say whether any progress had been made in stopping the payroll glitches themselves. He said he could not comment on specifics of the Kronos payroll implementation because of pending litigation against the medical center by a former employee. That litigation, filed earlier this month in Superior Court in Oakland and not yet answered by the center, involves in part complaints concerning the automated payroll system.
A spokesperson for Local 616, Director of Communications Brad Cleveland, said that while Cambio originally brought in Kronos, it was the center’s present director, Wright Lassiter, who escalated the problem.
“The center never had timeclocks before; they always used paper timekeeping,” Cleveland said. “Then they made a decision to move to electronic timekeeping. Last year, we reached an agreement with the medical center to move forward with implementation of the Kronos system that would have used the electronic payroll system and a paper system operating simultaneously,” Cleveland said. “That would allow us to immediately identify any problems in workers’ paychecks.” But Cleveland said that after Lassiter was hired, “he made the unilateral decision to go completely electronic.” Cleveland said that was symptomatic of the medical center “trying to do things on the cheap.” He also blamed the Kronos implementation team, which he said “wasn’t paying attention to problems. Instead, they were just barreling forward with putting the new payroll system into place, figuring that they’d just fix the problems as they came up. Implementation has been a disaster. It’s just a mess.”
Cleveland said the union is urging the center to return to the original agreed-upon paper trail system.
He also said that CEO Lassiter is quickly learning about his mistake.
“Lassiter came to a caucus meeting of the nurses earlier this month to talk about the payroll problems,” Cleveland said. “He got an earful.”