Capt. Jason Amdur, a Palo Alto firefighter for 27 years, loves his job. His children are grown, so when he's asked to work overtime — a regular occurrence, particularly during the summer — he often accepts.
By working hundreds of additional hours, perhaps as much as 45 entire extra 24-hour days, Amdur earned $71,431 in overtime alone in 2007, pushing his total salary above that of Fire Chief Nick Marinaro. Amdur made $183,600 last year; Marinaro took home about $180,000.
Amdur is one of 24 city employees — concentrated in the fire, police, utilities and public works departments — who earned more than $30,000 in overtime last year.
Many of these employees have seniority as well as special skills or certifications that make them particularly valuable.
Amdur, for example, has hazardous materials training, which adds 5 percent to his pay.
And Police Agent Adrienne Moore — who tops the list with $106,631 in overtime earnings during 2007 — currently works as a detective, but also moonlights on patrol and as a dispatcher, Assistant Chief Dennis Burns said.
Moore declined to speak with the Weekly, stating in an e-mail only that her drive to work overtime is private and "motivation has nothing to do with money or possessions."
But Amdur and Greg Schulz — an electric lineman who worked 407 extra hours in 2007 — were willing to share their stories.
Like other firefighters, Amdur works three 24-hour shifts a week and then takes a nearly four-day weekend. In all, the firefighters work 11 24-hour shifts a month, or spend one-third of their time at work, Deputy Chief of Operations Dan Lindsey said.
Due to union agreements, at least 31 firefighters must be on duty in the city when the foothills fire station (Station 8) is open. If a firefighter is ill, on vacation or training, a replacement is needed — usually selected from a voluntary overtime list. Marinaro said the firefighters usually work in chunks of 12 or 24 hours of overtime.
Each of the three shifts has 35 firefighters when the department is at full staffing.
Due to City Council decisions, overtime is required for certain positions, largely to save money needed for benefits or extra salaries during the off-season, Lindsey said.
"Overtime is a cost-saving measure that gets painted as this big, evil monster," Lindsey said.
The department paid $997,000 in overtime wages during the last fiscal year, according to city Budget Manager Sharon Bozman. But it was missing six staff members, creating the demand for more overtime but also eliminating the need to pay salaries and benefits for six people, Lindsey said.
Amdur, who lives in Hollister, said he worked much less overtime when his children were young. But these days, when asked he usually volunteers for extra hours.
"It's a great job," Amdur said. "My favorite part is the people I work with and the job. No one day is the same."
Amdur also views his role as one of a team member. By working additional hours, his colleagues — with families or other obligations — are less likely to be forced to work extra. And the city doesn't have to hire more firefighters, paying costly benefits, he said.
He also wants to dispel a myth: Overtime hours don't boost his retirement, not even by a penny.
Palo Alto firefighters are hourly employees, he said.
"They're working the time. If they're making that kind of money, they're putting in the hours," Chief Marinaro said.
The Police Department also has union-required "minimum staffing," and, of course, must respond to major crimes whenever they occur. The department paid $1.1 million in overtime during 2007-08.
The Utilities Department paid $1.5 million in overtime last year, keeping the city's electricity, water and natural gas flowing.
Schulz, an electric lineman for 23 years, earned $41,700 in overtime during 2007, a combination of unanticipated overtime — for storms or transformer overloads — and scheduled overtime. He made a total of $139,000 last year.
"We work through the night pretty often. We try not to impact the Palo Alto businesses. If it's a store, we don't want to turn them off during the day," Schulz said.
"When the power is out, we're obligated to come and get people's lights back on," he said.
Schulz, a supervisor, said he's had to work through every major holiday recently. Nearly all of the overtime is voluntary, however.
"It's a very proud trade. You go where you are needed," Schulz said.
"I have a sense of responsibility. There's work to be done. ... When I'm out there working, money's not on the top of my list."
Like Amdur, Schulz says he just loves his job.
"You get a big sense of accomplishment. It's nice to turn that switch and hear people cheer and yell. They're happy when they get their power back on," he said.
The work is dangerous and grueling, however.
Schulz has seen three friends killed and several severely injured.
And he has plenty to do off the clock.
A Cupertino resident, with three children and three grandchildren, Schulz also runs marathons, completing two last year.
Thanks to a few new staff members, Schulz said he plans to cut back on the overtime this year.
Earning more than $30,000 — or $100,000 — in overtime may strike salaried Palo Altans as extraordinary or unnecessary.
Compared to neighboring Mountain View and Menlo Park, however, Palo Alto has proportionately fewer "mega-overtime" earners.
Palo Alto paid 24 city employees more than $30,000 in overtime in 2007, but Mountain View — which has 834 fewer full and part-time workers — had 44 employees who earned more than $30,000 in overtime alone.
Menlo Park also had a proportionally larger number of sizable overtime earners — three percent of its workforce compared to Palo Alto's one percent.
Palo Alto employees were paid $4.9 million in overtime last year, adding to the $93 million paid in general earnings.