investigation of four employees suspected of goofing off on the job has resulted in the city firing one, suspending another for two weeks without pay and the other two retiring.
The employees worked as plant mechanics — a position that pays $54,263 to $76,488 a year, according to information on the city’s website. They cleaned, serviced and repaired the city’s roughly 60 sewer and stormwater lift stations. The employees typically worked in pairs, with each pair assigned a city utility truck.
The investigation found the employees “intentionally and knowingly failed to perform duties as a lift station maintenance crew member for substantial periods of the scheduled workday, instead using those work hours to socialize at the lift stations with (each other), go home, shop, sleep and drive around in the City utility vehicle,” Human Resources Director Norma Santoyo said in an email.
Not all of the employees engaged in all of these actions.
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Using GPS data, activity logs and other records, the city reviewed the employees’ work over five months, from May 23, 2016, through Oct. 27, 2016, according to Santoyo.
The investigation found one employee worked fewer hours than required yet received a full day's pay at least 43 times over the five months. A second employee worked fewer hours than required yet received a full day's pay at least 37 times. A third employee did this at least 24 times and the fourth at least 10 times.
Information about the number of hours the employees did not work on these days was not available.
declined to release the names of the employees and the investigation. One employee declined to comment when contacted by The Bee. The other employees did not respond to requests for comment or could not be reached for comment.
There is one pending matter. The employee who was fired in June has appealed that decision to an arbitrator. The date for the arbitration hearing was not available.
Modesto started its investigation after The Bee asked the city in October 2016 what the employees were doing at work. Acting on a tip, The Bee observed some of the employees over a couple of days during one week that month and published a story about what it learned.
The Bee spotted one employee apparently sleeping in his truck one morning as the engine idled for about 50 minutes (GPS records provided by the city show the truck was idling for nearly three hours), employees apparently taking an extra-long lunch break at a lift station, and employees shopping at Lowe’s, but the city said they did not turn in receipts for purchases.
It took the city a long time to resolve this matter.said the reasons include a lack of staffing, an investigation that was extremely complex because of the volume and types of records that had to be reviewed, and respecting the due process rights of four employees, which includes the right to hearings and union and legal representation.
She also said some of the employees were on extended medical leave, which added to the time it took to resolve this matter.
She said the investigation was completed March 31, and in May the city informed the employees of its intent to fire them. She said while one employee was fired in June, another retired in July.
A third employee was issued his final disciplinary notice of two weeks’ suspension without pay plus a year’s probation in late July after a hearing regarding the allegations against him. That employee has been suspended and is on probation. The fourth employee was issued the same disciplinary notice in late September but retired in early November before he was suspended without pay.
The city struggled to provide The Bee with records in October 2016 about how the employees spent their workdays. The records were garbled and unintelligible. The city then provided the newspaper with GPS records for the employees’ work trucks.
Santoyo said Modesto has put in place new tools and procedures to “ensure field crews are more closely monitored and work reports can be verified.”
She said that includes installing GPS tracking systems in all service vehicles used to maintain lift stations and rolling out a new computer maintenance management system that tracks daily work assignments. She said the system was in the development stages when The Bee raised its questions.
“I feel the changes we have implemented have completely resolved the inefficiency that was discovered and will ensure the efficient use of city forces in the maintenance of