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Star Advertiser: Hawaii deputy sheriffs hoping for back hazard, overtime pay

January 02, 2022

Hawaii deputy sheriffs hoping for back hazard, overtime pay

By Peter Boylan Jan. 2, 2022

Grievances filed by state deputy sheriffs over a new payroll system, and protracted negotiations involving hazard and overtime pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic and protests of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea appear to be inching toward resolution in 2022.

The issue of hazard pay for deputies who experienced upper respiratory infections, disorientation, trouble breathing, high blood pressure, mood changes and other maladies associated with exposure to altitudes of between 7,500 and 13,000 feet for more than three weeks straight, has been unresolved since 2019.

The deputy sheriffs, who work in the Sheriff Division of the Department of Public Safety, are also seeking compensation for law enforcement duties performed in hazardous conditions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

One deputy, who was evacuated from Mauna Kea after colleagues thought he was having a stroke, was later diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, an unexplained paralysis of facial muscles caused by nerve swelling and inflammation, according to an Aug. 18, 2019, memo from the Hawaii Government Employees Association, Local 150 AFL-CIO, to DPS that documents living and working conditions on the mountain.

The deputy who became ill lived and worked on Mauna Kea at varying altitudes for at least three straight weeks prior to the episode.

HGEA was aware of the state’s rapid deployment in 2019 of 38 deputies to monitor the occupation of Mauna Kea by protestors, and that the deputies were to live in the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy’s Hale Pohaku cabins. According to the memo, staff and astronomers at Hale Pohaku told the deputies that no one stays on the mountain for more than seven days at a time.

After the first five to six weeks, deputy sheriffs from Oahu or other islands who worked at Mauna Kea would come down to stay at sea level in Hilo each night following their shifts.

HGEA President Randy Perreira told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser the COVID- 19 hazard pay grievances appear headed to arbitration but the Mauna Kea hazard compensation should have been resolved by now.

“They very well should have addressed the Mauna Kea stuff by now, and I can’t understand the delay,” Perreira said. “The state has not acted on Mauna Kea nor any of the grievances, multiple grievances, for hazard pay thanks to the pandemic.”

Classification of hazard pay is a matter strictly within the jurisdiction of the state Department of Human Resources Development, DPS public information officer Toni Schwartz told the Star-Advertiser.

Seven deputies were evacuated from Mauna Kea for health concerns due to symptoms related to altitude sickness, she said. Deputies were stationed on Mauna Kea for nearly five months and were afforded breaks of up to three to five days every two to three weeks.

Some were provided alternate accommodations at a lower elevation after approximately four months of temporary duty assignments at 9,000 feet, Schwartz said.

Construction of the TMT is on an indefinite pause, and it’s uncertain whether deputies will be needed there in the future.

“If a future request for assistance is made by the state to the Department of Public Safety Sheriff Division, the department will respond to the request at that time,” Schwartz said.

The most recent pay grievance filed on behalf of deputy sheriffs involves the Hawaii Information Portal payroll system.

The HIP system went live for DPS in August, and employees were required to complete online training to learn how to input their hours and other information to ensure they received the proper pay each period.

Some deputies, especially veterans in higher pay brackets, experienced shortages of base pay, months-long waits for overtime, discrepancies in leave accounting and other compensation issues.

The online training required by the state Department of Accounting and General Services was insufficient, deputies allege, and a pilot program that started with supervisors should have happened before the department-wide rollout.

Perreira said HGEA is in the process of working with the state to resolve the discrepancies and additional HIP training will be provided.

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