As the MTA moves to crack down on "excessive" overtime, the agency's new inspector general revealed that a new time clock that had been installed at a major LIRR station in Queens was seemingly "sabotaged."
An April report by the Empire Center revealed that overtime payments at the MTA jumped 16 percent last year, which equaled a $418 million increase. Many of the highest compensated employees work for the Long Island Rail Road (which last year did the worst on-time performance since 1999), with the top earner being Thomas Caputo, an LIRR chief measurement operator, who got $117,499 in salary and $344,147 in overtime. Another worker submitted for over 4,100 hours in overtime, which would be the equivalent of 22-hour days Monday through Friday for a year.
In early May, MTA Chairman Pat Foye declared a review of overtime at LIRR, Metro-North, and NYC Transit, asking that the MTA's Inspector General review payouts. A few weeks later, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed a new IG, Carolyn Pokorny, a lawyer in his office who previously worked in the U.S. Attorney's office under Loretta Lynch.
Pokorny visited the LIRR's Jamaica Station on Wednesday after hearing that a new biometric timekeeping clock for LIRR employees "appeared to have been sabotaged," according to her office. According to the Daily News, "The new clocks require employees to use their fingerprint to check in and out, and are being rolled out across LIRR workplaces because of concerns that overtime is being abused."
The MTA's newly-minted IG brought cops into an LIRR workplace Wednesday after a cable used to connect a new "biometric" time clock was vandalized. https://t.co/3U1kvMG7Rz
— Clayton Guse (@ClaytonGuse) June 5, 2019
A note was also reportedly found at the station, apparently from a concerned colleague, that read, "To my fellow crazy co-workers: If you don’t want cameras in the booths and wherever you work, don’t cut the cord again."
Pokorny said, "Biometric clocks are being installed across the MTA to prevent overtime abuse and protect taxpayer dollars, and it is shocking and unacceptable to learn that one of these devices has been sabotaged. This office will have zero tolerance for any sabotaging of the equipment that is vital for ensuring the integrity of our timekeeping system, and I am directing our office to both work with the MTA Police to determine who performed this illegal act, and investigate whether this matter demands additional reforms and precautions across the LIRR system."
The overtime issue has roiled relations between transit workers and Cuomo's office. Politico reported on a closed-door meeting between MTA board members in late May where "Larry Schwartz, a businessman and former gubernatorial aide who is widely considered a proxy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen, another longtime Cuomo ally" got into an argument "that some of their colleagues feared might escalate into violence.... They were continuing an argument they’d been having in public for weeks: Whether or not alleged overtime abuse at the MTA amounted to an aberration that Cuomo and Schwartz are playing up for political effect, or an endemic problem."
Foye reportedly stood between the two and even allegedly held Schwartz back, and people described the exchange as "heated," "very aggressive posturing," and "expletive-laden" to Politico. The MTA is currently negotiating a new contract with transit workers; a previous one in 2014 did not address overtime rules (Governor Cuomo had a hand in getting that contract settled).
Pokorny urged anyone with any information about the incident at the Jamaica LIRR station to contact her office, either by phone 1-800-MTA-IG4U (1-800-682-4448) or email (Complaints@mtaig.org).