The MTA will launch an investigation into "excessive" overtime payments shelled out to transit workers, following reports that some employees are taking home hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra pay.
On Wednesday, MTA Chairman Pat Foye ordered a review into the regulation and procedures governing overtime payments at the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, and New York City Transit. The probes will be handled by the president of each agency, and will be made public after a 60 day investigation period.
Foye is also calling on the MTA's Inspector General to begin a full review of the payouts to "ensure that they were appropriately planned for, scheduled, signed off upon, and that the claimed hours were in fact worked."
The announcement comes on the heels of a report last week by the Empire Center, which found that overtime payments at the MTA jumped 16 percent last year, fueling a $418 million increase in payroll costs. That's more than enough to offset the most recent round of MTA fare and toll hikes, the fiscal watchdog group noted.
The report singled out the MTA's highest paid employee, Thomas Caputo, who collected a total of $344,147 in overtime last year on top of his $117,499 salary. An MTA spokesperson confirmed Caputo works as a chief measurement operator at LIRR, noting he is one of a handful employees who can operate the “advanced track-geometry car" that scans the rails for defects.
According to the database, the bulk of the MTA's top earners work for the LIRR, which last year saw its worst on-time performance rate in nearly two decades. One track worker who receives a $55,000 annual salary was found to have put in for 4,157 hours of overtime—working out to an average of more than 22 hour days, Monday through Friday, for an entire year.
In his statement on Wednesday, Foye noted that "the accumulation of so many hours of overtime raises serious questions, including potential safety issues such as exhaustion."
But as Foye described the report as "extremely concerning," others say the MTA has long turned a blind eye to overtime abuses, and is only pretending to care now that the payments have received widespread public attention. The MTA also claimed to be focusing on the issue in 2015, yet overtime payments to NYC Transit and LIRR workers have consistently increased every year since.
Part of that uptick has to do with a set of contracts brokered between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the transit unions in 2014, which did not address work and overtime rules, despite a pledge from MTA management to do so. A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to Gothamist's inquiries.
Critics have blamed the existing work rules for the transit authority's exorbitant spending on projects that would cost a fraction of the price in other cities; only at the MTA are there "nippers" to monitor the movement of construction materials, "hog house tenders" to guard the break room, and "oilers" to monitor cranes that no longer require lubrication.
Still, Tramell Thompson, an MTA subway conductor and activist, told Gothamist there were a "multitude of issues" responsible for the increase in overtime within the MTA, adding that he hadn't personally witnessed widespread abuse of the system at NYC Transit. "If we don’t take the OT," he said, "the service don’t run."
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo provided Gothamist with the following statement: "The MTA negotiates directly with their unions, however, the governor has made it clear that the MTA must fundamentally change the way it does business and that includes reigning in spending that has led to its dire financial situation.”
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