In its ongoing investigation into overtime at the Long Island Rail Road, the MTA Inspector General’s office has found a new reason why four LIRR foreman were able to rack up nearly as much as MTA brass. When they filed their hours, they included time spent driving to and from work that was billed as “overtime worked.” 

The IG found that together the foremen were able to earn $146,800 in extra pay in 2018 for “questionable travel time payment,” an amount that accounted for 23 percent of their combined $650,836 in overtime that year.

The union representing LIRR workers, known as SMART, told the IG that workers were paid for an allotted amount of travel time. According to the report, “the union further asserts that in exchange for the one hour each way, labor and management entered into an unwritten ‘handshake agreement’ stipulating that workers will report directly to their overtime locations instead of their headquarters.” 

But workers allegedly abused this.

“In fact, some particularly shrewd workers claimed so much travel time that they ‘bridged’ the time between the end of their regular shift and the start of their overtime shift. This allowed them to increase their rate of pay to double-time (after 16 consecutive hours) more often than their assigned work duties warranted,” the report noted.

The IG acknowledged that MTA management and the LIRR union are “at odds” over how to interpret the collective bargaining agreement when it comes to being paid for travel time. Philip Eng, president of the LIRR, said his agency has hired a third party to resolve the issue. He also said there are efforts underway to get overtime abuse under control. 

“The management team takes very seriously any confirmed abuses described in the Inspector General’s letter. Biometric time clocks have been installed across the LIRR. New management controls are in place to ensure overtime is assigned only when necessary and is monitored and approved by supervisors. We are undertaking a legal review of past practice regarding pay for travel time to make certain we appropriately pay employees going forward,” Eng said in a statement.

Anthony Simon, the general manager of SMART, said MTA leaders also share some of the blame. 

“Upper management puts tremendous pressure on our workers to deliver at all cost to achieve the goals of an aggressive expansion plan,” he said.

The inflated salary that boggled minds, including those of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Pat Foye, belonged to Thomas Caputo, an LIRR chief measurement operator. His annual salary was $117,499 but he earned $344,147 in overtime in 2018. 

Another worker put in for 4,100 hours of overtime which would have been impressive if it were possible to work 22-hour days Monday through Friday for a year.

“When there is so much extra pay at stake, and ambiguous time and attendance guidelines, coupled with an easygoing management attitude in the past, no one should be surprised when workers exploit the situation,” E. J. McMahon, research director at Empire Center, wrote in a statement. “This shows why extensive changes to work rules need to be a high priority for MTA management in contract negotiations.”

McMahon’s group released the salaries of MTA staff which brought the recent scrutiny of the MTA’s overtime issues. And that in part led Cuomo to appoint a new Inspector General, Carolyn Pokorny, who came directly from his office.

The IG’s audit also found a disproportionate number of MTA high earners work in the LIRR’s Engineering Department, specifically the Track and Structures Divisions. 

“While the average base salary for these 26 employees was $99,008, hundreds of hours of overtime boosted their average total pay to over $300,000 for the year,” the audit found. For comparison, the highest paid official at the MTA, Managing Director Ronnie Hakim, earned $366,440 last year. 

The US Attorney is investigating the LIRR for potential federal crimes related to overtime abuse.