The latest from The Post on the MTA’s overtime payouts sure sounds familiar. As MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder is exploring ways to reduce overtime, the MTA, say Tom Namako and James Fanelli, is doling out dollars left and right. It’s an outrage! Or is it?
First, the story:
As the MTA was announcing plans in 2009 to eliminate two subway lines and 33 bus routes, thousands of employees — from agency presidents to train mechanics — were pocketing millions in overtime and other perks, The Post has learned.
Hogging a stunning slice of the overtime were Long Island Rail Road employees, who benefit from arcane union work rules that allow everyday engineers and grease monkeys to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars above their salaries while barely lifting a wrench. Railroad employees account for more than half of the top 100 overtime earners in 2009, records show.
Monica Hunter, a supervisor for the LIRR, was the highest overtime earner, pulling in a staggering $155,000 on top of her $79,000 salary last year. Track foreman Vincent Mazzola wasn’t far behind, scoring $148,000 on top of his $82,000 salary. Work rules — some more than a century old — allow employees to game the system. For example, when crew members are switched from one train to the next, they are contractually given another day’s full pay.
The MTA Inspector General, says The Post, is currently conducting a review of these pesky LIRR work rules from another era, but for The Post, that investigation and analysis seems nearly beside the point. Look at how wasteful the MTA is!
But let’s step back from the snarky exclamation points and the initial outrage to ask another question: Did these two reporters actually ask the MTA how much it would cost to fill the vacant shifts without overtime? How much more would the MTA be paying in salary and, more importantly, benefits and pension plans if the authority hired a new worker for every 40 hours of overtime per week? That would, I think, be a vital piece of information to have before slamming the MTA for doling out the overtime. It is possible for overtime to be a money-saver.
When a state comptroller report called for tighter overtime regulations, frequent SAS commenter Niccolo Machiavelli left a very detailed comment with some overtime math. Based upon the numbers, the average MTA worker puts in 4.5 hours of overtime a week, a figure well within range of the national average. While it’s easy to highlight the outliers, the MTA’s overtime isn’t nearly as problematic as it seems.
It makes sense, of course, for the authority to modernize its overtime rules. LIRR employees, for example, shouldn’t draw overtime just because they have to go work on another train to fill out their shift. But it pays to look a little deeper at the problem before proclaiming it to be one.