Local officials say a provincial program for compensating overtime directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic is why the medical officer of health for London, Ont., and Middlesex County saw a $100,000 increase in his latest reported salary.
The Ontario Sunshine List, a database reserved for public sector employees who earned more than $100,000 annually, notes that Dr. Chris Mackie had a reported salary of just over $300,000 in 2019 associated with his role at the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU).
Earlier this week, the MLHU disclosed the salaries of employees who made the Sunshine List this year and reported Mackie had earned more than $400,000 in 2020.
Board chair for the MLHU and Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy says the increase is linked to overtime that was paid for by the Ontario government.
“The province asked us to track all overtime hours, all extra hours, that all employees, unionized and non-unionized, have put in in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cassidy said, noting that Mackie was paid at straight time rather than an adjusted rate for overtime.
“Dr. Mackie’s extra hours were 611 for COVID.”
While she didn’t have specifics on what tasks would qualify for extra hours for Mackie, Cassidy says the medical officer of health regularly had “phone calls, conversations, meetings” with various officials that stretched “well into the night,” along with coordination efforts with the MLHU team.
“Dr. Mackie doesn’t work regular hours, he doesn’t work 9-to-5, he regularly works probably double what most people would consider a normal work day,” Cassidy added.
Cassidy says the province doled out a total of $730,000 for the 47 MLHU employees who qualified for the provincial overtime compensation program.
The least amount of overtime reported by one employee was 44 hours and the highest amount was reported by an employee who clocked 700 extra hours in 2020, according to Cassidy
“We’re a seven-day-a-week organization that doesn’t have an end time… if there’s an outbreak in a long-term care home, staff at the health unit are working, as they need to, through the night,” Cassidy said.
“These are people that have sacrificed time with their family, they haven’t gone on vacation, they’ve taken limited sick time, retirements have been postponed, people that have retired have come back to work.”
The provincial compensation for overtime pay was also discussed during a virtual meeting of the MLHU’s finance and facilities committee on Thursday.
The agenda for the meeting, which includes a link to the list of MLHU employees who made more than $100,000 last year, can be found here.
Director of healthy organization for the MLHU, Emily Williams, noted during Thursday’s meeting that the number of employees making the Sunshine List more than tripled in 2020.
“Up 67 from 19… This was due mainly to extra time worked in the context of COVID-19 pandemic,” Williams told the committee.
“For non-union management in particular, this was paid at straight time, not time and a half… For those unionized employees, we followed the collective agreement language specific to overtime.”
Committee chair Matt Reid also noted that the list of employees who made more than $100,000 is comprised of both union and non-union workers.
“Public health nurses, there’s a lot of them that are appearing and they be would part of the union, so they’re probably a third, if not a half, of the names on there,” Reid said.
Reid also clarified to the committee that the overtime paid for by the Ontario government does not take away from COVID-19 relief funding being doled out to municipalities, but rather comes from a separate provincial fund.
“I think it just sort of needs to be stated that these are people who are giving up more time with their family… and putting in more hours, so there’s sort of a duty that we have to recognize,” Reid said.
Williams added that the province has not yet indicated whether it will provide compensation for overtime related to the pandemic in 2021, but says the MLHU is asking non-union employees who qualified last year to continue tracking their extra hours.
“We are not paying it at this time, we are just asking people to track the hours. For our unionized employees, we continue to follow the collective agreement language,” Williams said.