NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Some of the lowest-paid Metro Parks employees are now being forced to pay back $267,000 in hazard pay bonuses due to an error in their department, News4 Investigates has learned.
News4 Investigates first reported Monday how more than 100 Metro Parks employees had learned that due to incorrect hazard pay hours submitted to Metro Finance, they have to repay the hazard pay bonus they received in late 2020.
News4 Investigates confirmed 135 Metro Parks employees are being told they have to pay back thousands of dollars each in hazard pay from 2020.
The employees earned that hazard pay by cleaning up and working among the public to ensure that the city’s parks remained opened during the pandemic.
In a statement released late Tuesday, Monique Horton Odom, the director of Metro Parks, said she is concerned about the financial impact this will have on the department’s employees and disputed what metro finance has released to News4 Investigates.
“Please know, while it is not my desire to publicly disagree with a peer department, I take exception with the statement issued yesterday by Metro Finance that asserted, “The parks department mistakenly submitted the total hours worked by these employees rather than only the percentage of hours eligible for hazard pay.” The information that was submitted to Metro Finance, was the information that was requested,” said Horton Odom.
News4 Investigates reached out to a spokeswoman for Metro Finance but did not hear back.
Metro parks first reported that 135 employees would have to pay back their bonuses. Still, they then revised their number Tuesday to only 110 employees must now repay.
That revised number means fewer employees are now tasked with shouldering the repayment of $267,000.
An analysis of the positions of the 110 employees shows they are all custodians and maintenance workers.
Jason Freeman, political director for the employees’ union, Service Employees International Union, said the employees have been told if they cannot pay back their bonuses in full, it will be taken out of their paychecks throughout 2021.
Freeman said it means a cut of 10 percent of their paycheck for some of the lowest-paid employees.
“These people are thinking about – are they going to be able to pay their mortgage? Pay the rent? Pay their car payment? These are very real problems again at no fault of their own,” Freeman said.
Again today, Metro Parks did not respond to our request for an interview.
The employee’s union is working with metro councilmembers like Nancy Van Reece, who tweeted that facts are being gathered for a joint committee report on the mistake.
“I do not think this is a done deal. I’ve spoken to many metro councilmembers who do not believe employees should be responsible for this,” Freeman said.
A spokeswoman for Metro Parks said that no one in the department had been disciplined for making the error that resulted in the bonuses' repayment.
In a statement to News4 Investigates, a spokeswoman for Mayor John Cooper wrote, “Mayor John Cooper is grateful to frontline employees who took on new risk and came to work so they could continue serving our city during a global pandemic. He has called for a transparent, compassionate solution that is fair and equitable, keeps Metro in compliance with federal and local laws, and lessens the impact to these employees as much as possible.”