For the past eight months, MTA officials have waged a war against overtime. In December, CEO and Chairman Jay Walder highlighted the overtime issue, and again in May, he spoke about how the authority will try to limit overtime shifts in order to save money. In between, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli urged the MTA to rein in the overtime.
It is no great surprise, then, that DiNapoli’s latest audit of the MTA reveals a “culture of acceptance” that has enabled what he terms overtime abuse. It’s hardly a groundbreaking finding, but it reinforces what Walder has said about the MTA’s work rules. “Uncontrolled overtime has been the rule rather than the exception at the MTA,” DiNapoli said. “The MTA is cutting services, raising fares and tolls and laying-off employees, but it should be doing more to control expenses. Overtime shouldn’t equate to twice someone’s annual salary. When scores of employees are earning more in overtime than they make in salary, it’s time for the MTA to change the culture of acceptance to a culture of accountability.”
The audit simply reinforced Walder’s numbers. DiNapoli claims that 140 employees were able to more than double their salaries last year by exploiting the MTA’s overtime rules. Most of the workers were Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road workers, but some came from Transit as well. His press release comes with a table, and the audit — available here as a PDF — delves further into the agency breakdown.
On a case-by-case basis, DiNapoli found widespread overtime, as he would at any large organization. More than 3200 workers received overtime pay equal to at least half of their annual salaries, he said. Overtime accrued as workers replaced those out on sick leave even if replacements weren’t needed; and he found “unjustified or undocumented work” in 77 percent of overtime billing.
Yet despite the fact that overtime billing has risen by 32 percent over the last four years and despite his findings, DiNapoli identified just $56 million in overtime savings. Mostly, he said, the MTA should adopt practices it already said it would implement. He urged them to “match work schedules to work opportunities to reduce the need for overtime; restrict overtime budgets to specific targets for overtime reduction; and follow up on 59 questionable overtime payments identified by auditors.” As Comptroller’s reports go, this one is a pretty tame one, and a ten percent cost savings hardly seems worth the price of the audit.
For its part, the MTA stressed how these findings came as no surprise, and it reiterated its pledge to control overtime costs. “The comptroller’s audit confirms what we reported earlier this year and reinforces the need for the aggressive actions we’re taking to reduce unnecessary overtime,” the agency said in a statement. “We will do our part, but active participation from our labor unions is the only way to make the type of impact we all want.”
Interestingly, the news coverage of the audit revealed more surprising results than DiNapoli’s report did. As WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman noted, the MTA has had to spend more on overtime due to station agent dismissals than it had anticipated, and some union leaders claim that the MTA now would have saved money by keeping the axed agents on board. The authority says this is a temporary problem that has “persisted” longer than expected, but it is no where to be found in DiNapoli’s report.
This is DiNapoli’s 13th audit of the MTA since 2007, and by now, he’s charting familiar territory. The MTA knows it needs to control overtime, and it knew this reality well before DiNapoli started working on this report. If the Comptroller wants to sink his teeth into something juicy, he should examine the organizational structure of the authority as a whole. Otherwise, telling us what we already know doesn’t advance the dialogue.