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Photo by Michael Minasi/KUT

Austin struggled to hire summer employees. Then, it failed to pay some on time.

Thursday, June 30, 2022 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

At least 34 employees with Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, including some who care for children as part of city-run summer camps, went as long as a month without pay because of a clerical error.

At least one employee’s paycheck was nearly five weeks late and he had trouble paying his car paymentKUT confirmed through emails obtained via a public information request and a brief interview with the employee.

The error occurred as the city struggles to recruit temporary seasonal workers, particularly lifeguards; some public pools remain closed because of the shortage, despite triple-digit temperatures.

“Some of these employees are missing a substantial amount of hours 50-80 hours, but others are missing 13 or less hours,” Ginny McDonald, a manager in the city’s payroll department, wrote on an internal messaging system last week.

According to a list of 21 employees who had gone without pay, the city owed an average of $763 to each worker; one employee, who is listed as working for the city’s pools, was owed nearly $1,500 for more than 90 hours of work.

“The department recognizes people depend on their checks for their livelihoods,” John Nixon, a spokesperson for the Parks and Recreation Department, told KUT in an email. “The department sincerely apologized for the error and has reviewed internal processes to help prevent any future errors.”

Nixon said the city gave affected workers an additional $150 and certificates of appreciation.

The issue came to the attention of the city’s payroll department on June 15 when a supervisor with the parks department asked it to process checks for people who had gone unpaid, according to emails between city staff. One problem seems to have been that start dates were incorrectly entered for dozens of temporary summer employees.

“I know this is a huge ask but some of these employees are desperate and need their pay,” Al Carmona, a supervisor for the parks department, wrote on June 16 to an employee in the payroll department.

The problem wasn’t resolved until more than a week later, when city staff wrote they would hand-deliver paychecks to employees on June 23; some people should have received paychecks as far back as May 27.

In emails, staff noted there had been problems onboarding seasonal staff and that payroll issues like these have occurred in the past.

“I would like to get together with your team, corporate HR, and the payroll team to see what we can do to improve the summer hire process going forward as we seem to have similar issues every year,” Marija Jukic, the city’s controller, wrote two weeks ago as the pay problem arose.

A supervisor for the parks department said staffers had recently input 300 new hires into the city’s payroll system.

“It was just a very busy, busy week for us,” Daniel Paciocco wrote on the city’s internal messaging system.

Seasonal workers are some of the city’s lowest paid, with wages starting at $15 an hour. More than half of the employees affected earned anywhere from $16 to $16.25 an hour, in a city where you’d have to work roughly 100 hours at this wage to afford the average monthly rent.

“The matter is a serious concern for me as the delay in pay causes me financial problems,” one employee wrote in an email to the Parks and Recreation Department. (KUT reached this employee by phone briefly, but was not able to confirm whether he would agree to make his name public.)

Alexa Haverlah contributed to this story.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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