ATLANTA — Thousands of employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will soon receive checks in the mail for millions worth in unpaid overtime. 11Alive's investigative team, The Reveal, uncovered not all of the money will go to employees who earned it.
It all came down to a decision from one person, the union president. When the board disagreed with the distribution plan, members say the president relieved them of their duties.
The distributed money stems from a 2016 grievance filed by the union representing agency employees who claimed they were not properly paid.
George Roark was the first employee to raise red flags. The former emergency response specialist discovered he and 106 fellow colleagues were not paid overtime for more than five years. Roark retired in 2019 after 36 years with the CDC and the military.
The agency didn’t admit fault, but agreed to pay $11 million to the union representing impacted employees, funded by the American taxpayer, and first uncovered by 11Alive in August 2019.
"I was hopeful it was going to settle very quickly and people were going to get the money they were owed,” Roark said in an interview with 11Alive this past March. “At that time, I don’t think any of us knew the magnitude of what would come out of it.”
The Reveal investigation uncovered that nearly two years later, Roark and several of his fellow employees represented by the union say they aren't getting what they were promised.
The original intent of the settlement was to reimburse the 107 employees who provided evidence they worked overtime, but were never paid. The rest of the money would then be distributed to union employees who were part of the grievance and believed they were potentially impacted.
Earlier this month, members learned that’s not what happened. Instead of reimbursing the employees who proved they were owed overtime, the settlement caped the amount they could get paid to $18,000, even if they were owed more.
Roark says he’s owed about $40,000. He’s now getting less than half that.
The change allows about 2,400 other union members to get more money whether they ever worked overtime or not.
"It doesn’t make me feel well, because the people who should be paid should be the ones who were harmed and the ones who were harmed the most,” Roark explained.
He’s not the only one disappointed about getting short-changed.
Pam Gillis helped lead the fight to compel the CDC to hand over the money as a former union president in 2019.
Gillis is among the employees not fully compensated for overtime.
“It’s the employees' money and that’s what really is unfair about it,” Gillis said.
The union’s current vice president, Randolph Williams isn’t happy either.
“That was not the purpose of the settlement. It was to give back to the employees,” Williams explained.
Gillis and Williams don’t blame the agency for the problem. This time, they’re pointing the finger at Dionne Mason, the union’s immediate past president.
Williams says he and a panel of union members tried to voice their concern over the distribution plan with Mason months ago.
“As a matter of fact, when the panel disagreed with the union president, she relieved us of our duties for the distribution because we didn’t agree with her,” Williams said.
Under the settlement agreement, Mason was supposed to notify employees of the distribution plan in advance. Williams and Gillis say that didn’t happen.
According to documents reviewed by The Reveal, Mason never submitted a claim for overtime, but she’ll still be eligible to receive thousands of dollars under the settlement terms that she alone approved.
"She's a person who benefits from this because she did not have a claim for overtime. She told me that herself,” Gillis said.
“I think what the president has done is for personal gain,” Williams said.
Mason declined interview requests. In a one sentence email to The Reveal, Mason wrote, “This is an internal union matter and I have no comment.” On the union’s website, she wrote to members that “your Union stands by the formula and calculated payment amounts as being fair and equitable.”
The union’s bylaws require members be given an opportunity to vote on any questions they want to bring, such as the distribution plan, but many CDC employees tell The Reveal, not only did that that not happen, Mason denied it.
On March 15, the union held an election for its next president. Mason lost.
Some employees are now considering filing a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department.
The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country.