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The state violated federal labor law and has agreed to repay overtime back pay

The security team that protects Gov. Scott Walker has been paid more than $570,000 in overtime pay.

JOHN HART - State Journal

The state Department of Transportation violated federal labor law in not properly paying overtime to the security team that protects Gov. Scott Walker and has repaid more than $570,000 in overtime back pay, the U.S. Labor Department announced Wednesday.

The investigation by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division found between May 2013 and May 2015 nine members of the dignitary protection unit routinely worked 50, 60 and sometimes more than 70 hours in a week. The state paid the employees for 40 hours, and occasionally paid for additional hours when they worked more than 60 hours in a week, but not at overtime rates, as required under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The reimbursement comes out to about $64,000 per employee, or roughly a year’s salary of regular pay.

The $577,189 in back pay is the fourth-highest amount paid by any state as part of a federal labor investigation in the past decade, and the second-highest amount for police protection, according to Labor Department records.

“All workers must be paid in accordance with the law,” division district director David King said in a statement. “Employers, whether in the public or private sectors, should ensure that they are in compliance with the law.”

DOT spokeswoman Patricia Mayers said in a statement that the department cooperated with the U.S. Department of Labor’s review, implemented the decision and paid the back wages to the affected employees.

“The previous system of compensating DPU members, in place since March of 2006, has been changed and is now in compliance with FLSA provisions,” Mayers said.

In September, the state announced it was cutting in half the security team that protects Walker and rescinding a $4-per-hour raise after the federal government ordered back pay for unpaid overtime. The Labor Department’s investigation was not complete at that time.

Walker’s security costs came under increased scrutiny as he traveled extensively around the country and globe exploring a presidential bid starting in January. He officially launched a short-lived presidential campaign in July.

In 2014, the cost of Walker’s security team approached $2.4 million, or three times what it was in the last year of predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle’s term when there were only four permanent members. In Walker’s first year as governor, when he and his family faced death threats during the Act 10 protests, the total cost was $1.6 million as the team increased to 10 members. The cost reached $2 million in 2012 and $2.2 million in 2013.

Walker’s campaign and nonprofit political group, Our American Revival, have reimbursed the state for about $125,000 in travel expenses and mileage through the end of June. The state has yet to bill and receive reimbursement for July, August and September, when Walker was running for president. The campaign has said it is not reimbursing for salary costs.

The dignitary protection unit provides round-the-clock security for the governor, lieutenant governor and their families. The permanent team has been reduced from 10 members to five members. They earn hourly pay rates ranging from $32.15 to $34.36. Earlier this year their pay was bumped up by $4 per hour, but that amount was rescinded in the wake of the federal investigation.

According to the Labor Department, the state erroneously considered those employees exempt from overtime requirements.

Federal law establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping and youth employment standards for employees in the private and public sector. Most workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour and overtime pay at a rate not less than one-and-a-half times the regular pay rate after the employee works 40 hours in a work week.

The law includes an exemption for law enforcement personnel, allowing overtime to be paid after 86 hours in a 14-day pay period.

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.