Following a problematic rollout of a new payroll processing system in January, hundreds of San Francisco public school employees have been underpaid, mis-paid, or not paid at all.
Both the district and the teachers’ union have confirmed that the number of affected employees is in the hundreds. The teachers’ union is threatening a class-action lawsuit against the San Francisco Unified School District, based upon non-payment of workers, whom it says are now entitled to full payment with interest.
“I don’t see any evidence that they’re fixing the system,” said Nathalie Hrizi, the United Educators San Francisco’s vice president of substitutes. “And they are not moving quickly enough to address individual issues.”
Hrizi did not receive a monthly paycheck of around $6,000. She was subsequently sent an off-cycle check to make up for the non-payment, but says the funds never made it into her account because “they were not verified. Whatever account the district paid me from, my bank could not get the funds out.”
Teachers with more complicated classifications, such as substitutes with dual assignments and multiple pay rates or even pay periods, appear to be more susceptible to mis-payment. As are teachers who are on leave or involved in more esoteric programs. But every teacher Mission Local spoke with is now scouring his or her paystub.
“My actual base pay has been pretty accurate,” said one high school teacher. But “many of the other deductions and withholdings have been wrong, and impossible to figure out how to begin fixing.”
San Francisco Unified School District employees received an email from Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh on March 2, explaining that the problems stemmed from the January implementation of the EMPowerSF system, and that workers who were not properly compensated must be patient.
“While the majority of our employees are getting correct and timely payments, a lack of payment and/or response for those who are not can be catastrophic,” acknowledged Leigh’s email. “For system-related errors, this is inexcusable; and we recognize the urgency of resolving each and every pay-related issue. Every staff member will be paid the money they are owed.”
The question, however, is when: Leigh’s email noted that “the number of people who can fix issues is limited, and we are trying to train more as quickly as possible. We have moved 10 more people from other duties across various departments to support the Payroll, Salaries, Leaves and Benefits departments … ”
While more eyes are on the problems now, the teachers’ union has accused the district of rolling out a buggy program with insufficient support. At in-person sessions earlier this week, Hrizi said some affected teachers waited hours to speak to a district representative, and those people were unable to figure out what went wrong with the EMPowerSF system.
Its problems appear to be vast, complex and multifaceted. Mission Local spoke to one teacher who received his roughly $5,500 auto-payment for January without a problem. But, one month later, he was shocked to see he was compensated only $30 for the entire month.
Other teachers have complained about miscalculations with regard to myriad deductions, benefits or leave programs, or money intended for one location being mistakenly sent to another. One substitute teacher complained to the union that her monthly salary was, instead, deposited into her retirement account. This money cannot be expediently removed, and she received no payment for the month.
Another teacher told Mission Local that she has received compensation for her regular hours, but has not been paid since December for the Saturday Covid recovery service classes she teaches.
“I had to borrow money,” she said. “I have overdraft fees. It’s really embarrassing.”
A district paraeducator told Mission Local that she has missed four of her last five paychecks, and hasn’t received one since January. She’s down nearly $5,000.
“My partner is also a teacher. We don’t make enough to live a comfortable life. We’ve been late on rent multiple times,” she said. “I have migraines. It’s just lots of stress.”
District spokeswoman Laura Dudnick said that EMPowerSF replaced an archaic prior system that had been in place for 17 years.
“In the process of shifting from antiquated systems and processes to new ways of working, issues came up that have impacted payments for some employees,” she wrote. “The majority of the district’s nearly 10,000 employees have gotten accurate paychecks on time since the transition, but some have not. This is inexcusable and should not have happened. It is SFUSD’s responsibility to pay its employees accurately and on time. We deeply apologize to every employee who has experienced a delay.”
The apology is appreciated, but the teachers union wants more than that. Hrizi said that the glitchy EMPowerSF system was rolled out too hurriedly; she says the union pushed back on district plans to inaugurate it in August, 2021. “They moved it to January and it’s still a big mess.”
Hrizi says a class-action suit against the district may be launched as soon as this month. “Legally, when you are not paid by your employer, you are entitled to three-to-10 percent interest on the pay you are owed,” she said. “We are moving ahead with the lawsuit at this point because they have not promised funds to folks who are due them.”