TEXARKANA, Texas - As staff continue to work toward full recovery from a digital attack on city computer systems, the local firefighters union has made public its concerns about payroll problems that resulted from it.
The attack destroyed the city's entire financial system, and to keep paychecks going out while it was rebuilt, staff resorted to a "freeze" or "snapshot" of the last accurate payroll before the attack and continued paying employees at that rate. As a result since then, some employees have been paid for fewer hours than they have actually worked, including overtime, and others for more.
"Immediately, our City employees were notified that a true-up would be necessary once the system had been rebuilt. Unfortunately, this means that some employees will receive a payment, and some employees will need to work out a plan to pay back overpayments. Every employee is affected by this event and every employee will be trued up and compensated for time worked and accruals," a city spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.
The firefighters union has grown frustrated with the length of the recovery and made that known publicly this week.
In a Facebook post and later statement, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 367, which represents employees of the Texarkana Texas Fire Department, said many firefighters have been underpaid for more than four months and raised the possibility of taking legal action. Understaffing leading to more unexpected overtime shifts than usual, which in turn prevent some firefighters from working at their second, part-time jobs, is exacerbating the problem, according to the union.
"Texarkana firefighters have been patient with the city's efforts to recover from the ransomware attack. But, after four months of payroll problems, enough is enough," the union's statement said.
The union cites the federal Fair Labor Standards Act as allowing individual firefighters to sue for unpaid overtime compensation, damages and attorneys' fees.
A ransomware attack on Texarkana Water Utilities, which handles information technology services for both the cities of Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas, as well as Bowie County, Texas, was discovered Dec. 6. Multiple governmental bodies, courts and law enforcement agencies were affected, with large amounts of data destroyed or rendered inaccessible.
Ransomware is generally defined as hostile software used to attack, damage and disable computers and computer systems. It can lock users out of their devices or block access to files until a ransom is paid.
The attack was devastating to City Hall, wiping out backup files and forcing staff to wipe clean every PC in the network and erase every saved file at every workstation in the system.
"While the City shares information technology resources with other entities, it is important to note that not all entities were affected to the same extent," the city statement said.
Finance and Human Resources staff have had to rebuild the encrypted system, re-establishing employees, recreating payroll documentation and reconstructing the financial infrastructure for both internal and external payments. Access to some prior reports has helped ensure accuracy.
"Without these historical documents, the rebuild would have taken much longer and been even more tedious," the city stated.
City employees' April 2 paychecks, covering March 15 to March 28, will return to "live" processing, and they will be compensated for actual time worked during that period.
"Finance is currently working with department timekeepers to get all the historical time and data entered and correct accrual balances to calculate true-up amounts. Once this process is complete, Human Resources will meet with employees to review their calculated amount and answer any questions," the city stated.
An accurate accounting cannot come soon enough for local firefighters.
"Firefighter paychecks have been wrong for eight consecutive pay periods. City Hall insiders say the problem will not be fully resolved for two more months. Some firefighter families already are owed thousands of dollars. Others have not been paid for earned overtime, some of which was mandatory by city order," the union stated.
"Waiting two more months for correct paychecks and backpay is unacceptable. We need help now. We're asking the city again to tell us what truly happened and immediately pay our firefighters what they already have earned. It's time for solutions, not excuses."