Civic News
HR / Municipal government / Software

City workers are facing missed paychecks after a switch to new HR software. Unions want answers

The city implemented Workday software as it sought to modernize systems. In a letter this week, a coalition of Baltimore city public employee unions say problems are compounding.

Payroll. Photo by Matt Brown

As 2021 began, reports of payroll issues began surfacing among Baltimore city government. City workers from contact tracers to police officers said they weren’t being paid. Firefighters described issues with health insurance.

The varied issues can be traced back to the city government’s switch to a new software system, called Workday, which was implemented at the end of 2020. This year’s introduction of the software, which is designed to centralize human resources and finance tools, is a move toward modern tools where elected leaders have routinely lamented its outdated technology.

But this week, a coalition of Baltimore city public employee unions sent a letter to city officials claiming a breach of union contracts as a result of the problems. They listed significant grievances with the implementation of Workday, including widespread pay inaccuracies, issues with direct deposit and retirees being unable to receive healthcare benefits.

In late December, the City of Baltimore switched from a payroll management system made by ADP to a more modern system of Workday. There have been two pay periods since December 14, when Workday was fully implemented into the system. Unions are finding more and more issues every pay period.

“We believe it is absolutely time for the owners and administrators of the third party private software that is Workday to step out of the shadows, answer our questions, solve these problems and pay our workers what is owed to them,” said Joshua Fannon, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 964, which represents Baltimore fire officers. Fannon’s local joined a coalition of eight other unions that signed onto the letter. reached out to Workday for comment, but did not receive a response.

Workday’s team doesn’t handle the city’s payroll. That and other functions the software are still administered by the city, which bought a license for the third party, cloud-based software for approximately $9.7M over three years. The full budget for the Workday project is $44.4 million over three years, according to figures from the mayor’s office.

“Let me be very clear and very blunt: People need to get paid,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a press conference this week. “Everyone involved in the agencies have been working triple time to get this resolved as quickly as possible. We know there are going to be issues when you implement a new system and folks are going to have to answer in every single way possible for how they’re going to fix this problem.”

The issues, according to the mayor’s office, stem from the detail and nuance in payroll from department to department. Some departments don’t follow nine-to-five schedules, while others don’t have overtime constraints. The new system’s payroll calculations aren’t configured to account for the uniqueness in each department. Add general human error from dealing with a new system along with an apparent lack of thorough quality testing before full implementation, and you have the troubled launch of today.

While working with human resources, the unions found that many of the permissions that are necessary to make corrections to payroll are siloed with the third-party company.

“They are being provided the correct information,” Fannon said of Workday. “But for some reason it’s not being generated into accurate paychecks.”

To stop the bleeding while the technical issues are being resolved, the mayor’s office has been cutting supplemental checks to employees that come to the city’s human resources department with issues. City Council President Nick Mosby has called for an investigation into the implementation of Workday, and will hold a hearing on Feb. 10.

Mayor Scott can’t account for the previous administration’s implementation, but he knows an update from paper systems that were rife with corruption needed to happen. He referenced the Baltimore Police Department‘s former Gun Trace Task Force, where overtime fraud was a component of the 2017 racketeering indictment that exposed the corrupt police unit.

Payroll has been a very real issue for the city’s coffers. An audit of the BPD’s overtime showed that the city’s expenses had doubled to $47.1 million between 2013 and 2017, regularly going over budget. Before Workday, the previous system used paper time sheets and was vulnerable to fraud, according to an audit of overtime in the police department that followed the Gun Trace Task Force indictment. Updating the payroll system was a necessity, but, from the union’s perspective, the implementation of Workday was shrouded in mystery.

After two pay periods, each with hundreds of dollars in inaccuracies on paychecks, union leaders want this resolved immediately. Each pay period compounds the issue of lost wages, and hundreds become thousands.

“Having reported all of the issues the first time and getting another paycheck and having worse issues on top of the issues we had the first time, it just doesn’t bode well for the future of this thing,” said Fannon. “We need answers now. We need solutions now.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: City of Baltimore

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