Home Transit Labor Taking advantage of arcane work rules

Taking advantage of arcane work rules

by Benjamin Kabak

Every year, a story similar to this one comes around. The Daily News or The Post writes about an MTA employee who uses overtime to pad both his annual salary and his pension. Feet are stomped; fists are shaken; and nothing ever changes.

Here’s this year’s version as reported by two Daily News reporters:

An LIRR engineer punched his ticket on the MTA gravy train again, pocketing nearly $175,000 in overtime and other perks in 2010 – his third straight year as one of the agency’s top earners. Though Dominick Masiello’s base salary was $75,389, he took home more than triple that amount – a staggering $250,401, payroll records show.

The monster payday was nothing new for Masiello, 57. For the past three years, the Long Island man has ranked among the top 10 highest-paid workers in terms of overtime and extras. In 2009, he raked in $147,514 in overtime and perks on top of his $75,389 salary. The previous year, he scored $160,000 in extras to pad his $73,193 salary.

Masiello retired from the Long Island Rail Road in December, but he still managed to take home a quarter-million dollars for the year – putting him among the MTA’s top 10 best-compensated employees in 2010, records show…Masiello defended his haul, saying union work rules allowed him to rake in big bucks. For example, he made an extra day’s pay when he was moved to a different station. “There’s nothing to hide,” he said from his modest, two-story brick home in Port Washington. “I worked hard for that money.”

The story makes more sense when you realize that worker pensions are based off of an employee’s final three years of earnings. It makes sense for those on the verge of retirement to pad their salaries with overtime in order to secure a more lucrative payoff after they hang it up.

Masiello wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the system. A few others cashed in on overtime and unused sick days to triple their salaries, and the MTA says it can’t do much about it. “Pension padding is an issue that we are trying to address through collective bargaining, but many of our pensions are legislatively mandated,” an authority source said to the News.

There’s certainly enough blame to go around here. The MTA’s management should attempt to approve and schedule overtime in such a way that puts an end to this practice while the union should be willing to reform its work rules. This is bound to be an issue during the looming collective bargaining sessions as the authority is hoping to change the way it does business.

Meanwhile, over at Market Urbanism, Stephen Smith this weekend explored five work rules that harm transit operations. The ones he explored aren’t quite as applicable in New York as they are elsewhere, but he focuses on how cross-utilization is not allowed and overtime abuse as well. With regards to the MTA, we see how station agents aren’t tasked with cleaning or security, and we see how work roles in maintenance shops hinder productivity as well. As commenters on Smith’s article noted, work rules have also prevented the MTA from adopting OPTO technology or better proof-of-payment systems on board commuter rails lines.

Ultimately, as the MTA will work this fall to secure capital funding, it will also try to improve the way it spends dollars on its payroll. While the authority has trimmed payroll by around $100 million through staffing cuts, labor efficiencies could push those costs — currently at $5.11 billion — down further. To save the system, the two sides will have to find an agreeable middle ground.

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53 comments

Stephen Smith May 16, 2011 - 5:17 am

In addition to overtime abuse (okay, that’s the LIRR, not the MTA) and the restrictions on cross-utilization of labor, the MTA also suffers from the define shifts problem, as the NYDN and City Journal explain.

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Stephen Smith May 16, 2011 - 5:18 am

Oops, sorry, I meant “defined shifts.” As in the eight-hour work day (although without reading the articles I linked to maybe it was a nine-hour work day…that’s why I just say “defined shifts”).

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Evan May 16, 2011 - 5:05 pm

LIRR is the MTA. They are a part of the MTA.

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Hank May 16, 2011 - 8:21 am

Is there any way to defend a defined-benefit pension plan these days? Particularly when you can take it at age 57 and reasonably expect to live another 30 years?

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Phillip Roncoroni May 16, 2011 - 6:22 pm

Sure there is. It’s called actually knowing you’ll have a secure, decent retirement instead of hoping that the gamblers on Wall Street playing roulette with your 401K actually know what they’re doing.

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Hank May 18, 2011 - 10:02 am

Sweet. Where can I sign up for 30 years of work and then 30 years of guaranteed paid retirement?

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nycpat May 18, 2011 - 1:56 pm

DCAS

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Pete May 16, 2011 - 8:21 am

I wonder how hard is it to get a job at the LIRR? I bet its pretty hard if you arent the son of someone already working there, or if you have connections. This is a good ole boys system all set up for those in the LIRR.

Nothing changes. Last year we had the same damn issues. This infuriates me, I would gladly work at the LIRR for 50k a year. This guy doesnt work as hard as his pay scale would indicate. He managed to milk the system. He works in a great factory in a great area. I bet, the mexican dishwasher in the back of any restaurant works harder then this guy.

Hes not the only one. LIRR has supervisors layered upon each other doing nothing, getting paid a boatload. This is a case of unions gone wild. When I hear about stories like this, I want a guy like Scott Walker coming in to bust this union up. Im no republican, infact I hate what happened in Wisconsin, but this angers anyone who uses the LIRR. I see dirty trains, and fares go up, and they are acting like airlines with the tickets now. ALL TO JUSTIFY these outrageous payscales.

This guy also has a pension system setup to pay him for life in retirement. WTF, haves and have nots. I could go on, ut I have to stop myself.

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Pete May 16, 2011 - 8:39 am

I dont remember seeing any articles about teachers getting payed like this. Why are we going after the teachers and not after the LIRR? We see the abuse in pay that taxpayers have to deal with. They always say if we cut taxes on MTA we will lose service, how bout we cut those wages.

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Bolwerk May 16, 2011 - 12:02 pm

My guesses:

– Teachers + education staff make up about 1/3 of NYC’s workforce. ~100,000 people, so while they might not make as much as these LIRR guys, there are probably more of them.
– They’re mostly women, so misogyny probably enters into it.
– There’s national focus on how lousy schools/teachers are (legitimately), while there is little national focus on why railroads don’t work – figuring out why doesn’t do any favors for people who have a theological belief that public transportation is “inefficient” because it won’t be inefficient anymore.
I guess you could come up with some other anecdotal reasons, like rubber rooms, but moral indignation usually drives this stuff, not rational thought.

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pete May 17, 2011 - 9:22 pm

Railroads work when there is a financial motive by corporate leadership. Look at CSX, BNSF, UP, NS and friends. MTA has no financial motive the way a for profit would have. There is no reason why Metro North and LIRR shouldn’t be the same railroad, with only 1 of everything. Third rails shoes can be convertable, or just diesel the trains over Hell Gates. MTA Bus and NYCT Bus were merged corporately a few years ago, a good thing. Not sure if LI Bus was merged. Maybe the MTA should bustitute at late night, or shut down redundant lines at night like Lower Broadway (was proposed a few years ago as a budget cut by the MTA). What about overhauling track maintenance policy? Just bustitute the line for an entire weekend or a whole week in the summer (no students, less rush hour passengers), not nightly closures which take hours to set up, and hours to clean up every night, so only 2 hours of work get done every night in the end. The GOs are insane. Every line, every weekend and every weekday night. Thats embarrassing. You can build a 40 story condo building in less time than an MTA track/tunnel/signal/electrical “rehabilitation” project. 53rd Street tunnel has been GOed for what, 8 years now? Beijing BUILT the whole NYC subway system size wise in just 10 years in the 2000s. For the amount of GOs, I expect fresh tunnels with white concrete walls everywhere. Any rehab project the MTA does, has to be repeated by the time its finished. Stations that are 20 years old (Archer Ave line, 21st Queensbridge), look worse than some unrehabbed 100 year old stations.

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Jah May 16, 2011 - 9:03 am

If the LIRR didn’t want this to happen they simply can “cap” certain guys so that they get no over time. I don’t blame the employees who are working for the money.

The problem is the horrendous management that allows this to happen.

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Mark May 16, 2011 - 9:10 am

Agreed. You can’t blame the employees for working the system in place. Cops do the same thing, pad their last few years with overtime and cash out stockpiled sick and vacation days.

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BrooklynBus May 16, 2011 - 11:00 am

Correct. It’s the fault of management.

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Larry Littlefield May 16, 2011 - 11:20 am

I have to disagree, to an extent. The rules that allow this kind of abuse are in contracts. Once a perk goes in, it becomes irrevocable.

All the union has to do is get one of theirs in for a year or two, and the perk is in. Moreover, managers abuse the same perks, so they are on the same side.

A new guy comes in and tries to fix the problem, and is powerless.

Note as well that these are anectdotes. You need numbers. And I wonder if the numbers would show the same thing as the anectdotes. None of the abuse is at New York City Transit.

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BrooklynBus May 18, 2011 - 11:56 am

When I said it was management’s fault, I meant who agreed to let the union put these provisions in in the first place? Also, why haven’t they been successful in getting some of them modified during contract giveback negotiations? You really can’t blame someone for working the system. Someone who is making huge sums of money working overtime is also giving up some of his family life.

AK May 16, 2011 - 11:20 am

I’m not quite so willing to let the employees off the hook. Do individuals have an independent responsibility to act morally, even if the arguably-immoral behavior is legally sanctioned? I think so. If you agree, then the next question is whether pension-padding is so obviously-egregious as to be worthy of the scorn of the community.

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BrooklynBus May 18, 2011 - 11:58 am

I don’t see anything immoral about pension-padding.

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Al D May 16, 2011 - 9:27 am

You mentioned OPTO in your article. Funny, I just got back from the Windy City, and I believe that the El is OPTO 24/7, and yes including rush hours!

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Donald May 17, 2011 - 12:14 am

Chicago has much shorter trains than NYC. It would be much harder to have OPTO in NYC, especially during the rush hour. Did Chicago have any curved platforms, or are they all straight?

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VLM May 17, 2011 - 12:54 am

Ugh. Please. That’s just an excuse from the unions and isn’t true in any practical sense at all.

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Alon Levy May 17, 2011 - 12:32 pm

There are curved platforms in Paris, and very long trains in Tokyo.

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nycpat May 17, 2011 - 12:40 pm

Don’t they have platform guards/pushers in Tokyo? In Paris do they still have turnstiles that prevent one going on the platform while the train is closing doors?
I think New York has too many unruly people to run OPTO 24/7. The trains will not move when school lets out.

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pete May 17, 2011 - 9:25 pm

DC has no problems with OPTO. The system is a descendant of the NYC subway, standards wise (600 foot trains, 10 feet wide, block signaling, etc).

Alon Levy May 18, 2011 - 11:36 am

Tokyo has pushers only at the busiest stations; there’s nothing in New York that compares.

Paris does not have those turnstiles. If you run down the stairs, you can just catch a train – at least you can on Line 1, the busiest in the system. I believe the only line with platform screen doors is the automated Line 14, but I’m not sure.

Ed May 16, 2011 - 10:57 am

Why isn’t Masiello a manager? With his financial ability, and knowledge of complicated work rules, plus a certain degree of bloody-mindedness, he would seem to be exactly what the organization should be looking for in a manager. He could be put in Budgeting and charged with coming up with a solution to the overtime problem.

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nycpat May 16, 2011 - 12:21 pm

This is a management problem. That rule about paying extra to switch stations or equipment is meant to dissuade management from willy-nilly jerking workers around. That the LIRR actually pays this premium is a management failure, or is cheaper than alternatives.
I would think letting workers cash out 30 years of unused sick time and vacation would be a win-win. I think management threw these premiums and OT at this guy because he was a good reliable worker. Six days a week on midnights for 30 years, never calling in sick?
I like how these right wingers deliberately conflate LIRR and NYCT when it suits them.

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VLM May 16, 2011 - 12:23 pm

Which right-wingers are you referring to – the Daily News? For better or worse, labor isn’t a left/right issue any longer. I know a bunch of liberal voters who have little sympathy for organized labor exactly because of stories like this one.

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Bolwerk May 16, 2011 - 1:49 pm

Nobody is ideologically inclined towards this kind of waste. Keeping it around is a function of political expedience, not ideology. Also, much of the former urban proletariat has the entitlements, if not the business knack, of a petty bourgeoisie (or subourgeoisie, as many live in suburbs now), and their material interests are more aligned with the stereotypical American middle class – the people the GOP manipulates, and the DNC panders to. Those who didn’t manage to join their ranks have largely fallen into the ranks of more abject poverty – where they’re excluded from society mostly or entirely.

Whether some of these people end up being overpaid workers or impoverished depends largely on chance, not skill, merit, education, or eagerness to do the job.* It’s from the largely blue collar white demographic that mostly gets those jobs in the union-petite bourgeoisie spectrum that authoritarian movements, such as the Tea Party, tend to be seeded.

* Race and connections might be factors though.

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Hank May 18, 2011 - 10:03 am

couldn’t have said it better myself (cerebral white liberal)

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nycpat May 18, 2011 - 1:21 pm

This guys having a big payday after 30+ years of service is not chance. He was a good worker, selfdisciplined and workaholic. His base pay was 75K+. Not an unreasonable wage for a locomotive engineer. He doubled that by working midnites and regularly working an extra day a week, and it seems by having his work location changed alot. Management decided to pay a premium to assign him to other work locations. This premium was negotiated as a prohibative deterrant to reassigning work locations, for the nonworkaholic engineers who want a life.
More than one third of this guys final pay was deferred vacation and unused sick time after 30+ years of service. This is described as a union perk in the article.
That’s BS to say that white union members trend to the tea party. Absolute BS. You can look it up.
Anyway it’s the black middle/working class that will suffer most when the unions and civil service are weakened.
Just curious, how much do you think an engineer should make for working overnights, 12 hours a day,6 days a week, for 52 weeks?

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Bolwerk May 18, 2011 - 2:30 pm

Nobody is saying this guy did anything legally wrong. The rules themselves are what is being called into question. It’s certainly not wrong for the public, which is paying this pension, to set a reasonable limit on how much someone’s pension can be. I don’t care if you’re a 50-year veteran of Congress or a lowly desk clerk, I don’t buy that anybody should be rewarded with a six figure pension for not working anymore.

Also, I didn’t say white union members trend towards the Tea Party – though last year, some undoubtedly voted for the same candidates in certain midwestern states. It’s a matter of course that authoritarian movements usually depend on making the middle/lower-middle class feel humiliated, and placing the blame on people who more socioeconomically vulnerable. You’re absolutely right that some of the black working/middle class would be harmed by weakened unions, but many more browns and blacks, any many whites too, don’t get the perks in the first place. They’re simply excluded from such roles in society.

nycpat May 18, 2011 - 3:06 pm

I agree that 6 figure pensions should be reformed. No doubt they will be. I just suspect that the baby is going to be thrown out with the bath water.
Chance applies to everything. Why don’t you attack people born with rich parents.

Bolwerk May 18, 2011 - 4:23 pm

Who says I don’t? I regularly beat people born with rich parents to death, and redistribute their wealth to the lumpen proles. Both the Ayn Rand Society and the Tea Party have fatwas out against me.

That said, people getting six-figure pensions from the government are taking resources that could be spent housing, educating, and investing in people who are in dire poverty – or giving a desperately needed way to work for a lot of less fortunate people.

nycpat May 16, 2011 - 10:22 pm

Absolutely the Daily news is right wing. They may be bien pensant politically correct (except for Israel), but Zuckerman is no freind of the working man.
Of course liberals have no sympathy for organized labor. That’s why the middle class has been shrinking for 40 years. They are inveterate snobs. How dare high school graduates, with their backward notions, make a decent living doing dirty tedious work!

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Alon Levy May 16, 2011 - 2:26 pm

Question to the gallery: what are the rules at NYCT about sick leave? How about the LIRR?

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nycpat May 16, 2011 - 10:39 pm

NYCT get 12 sick days a year. Unused sick days are accrued throughout one’s career. I believe that on retirement you can cash out 50%. If you don’t call out during a calender year you can cash out two days. If you’re on the sick control list they will go to your home and check up on you. If you call sick during snow days, holidays around your vacation etc they make it hard on you. If your regular job has built in OT and you call out sick you get only 8 hours. While it’s possible to call out sick and get a regular day off OT shift, I don’t think it would happen regularly. You’ld have to have a hook in the crew office.
People can and do get fired from NYCT for chronic absenteeism and malingering. Legitimately chronically sick people are also let go after 12 months.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 4:14 pm

“The story makes more sense when you realize that worker pensions are based off of an employee’s final three years of earnings.”

Not always. My fathe rretired from NYCTA under the Tier I pension and he got 50% of his last year’s pay. Newer workers get the average of their last 3 years of pay.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 4:18 pm

“Is there any way to defend a defined-benefit pension plan these days? Particularly when you can take it at age 57 and reasonably expect to live another 30 years?”

The average lifespan of a white male is 78 years.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 4:23 pm

The new mentality of Amerrica has become: If you have something that I don’t have then you should not have it either. If you have a pension and I don’t, then you should lose your pension because I am too lazy to fight for one.

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Alon Levy May 16, 2011 - 5:10 pm

If you have a million-dollar salary with multimillion bonuses and a golden parachute and I don’t, then it’s because you’re good and fought for it and deserve it.

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Pete May 16, 2011 - 7:04 pm

Have you applied to get a job at the LIRR? Its hard as heck to be accepted in. Thats the mentality I am fighting. The haves are not willing to open up jobs and give up pay to let new outsiders in. Its a Good Ole Boy, Golden Parachute when your done kind of job. I am not for taking it away if I dont have it, but at least make the possibility of working on the LIRR more likely.

So which is more evil? Someone who wants to have a chance of getting in? Or someone who is protectionist over his pay?

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 8:46 pm

So then work for NYCTA. Go and take the test.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 8:51 pm

And yes, it is wrong whenever there is cronyism. But the union does not get to decide who is hired. That is completely a management issue. Just for the heck of it, I applied to a LIRR car cleaner job last month. I will wait and see what happens.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 4:36 pm

If anyone is concerned about waste, then the place to look at are the private contractors stealing money from the govt., not LIRR workers working overtime. Just the other week, a contractor was caught stealing $3.6 million from the DOE.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 5:56 pm

Smith’s article on union work rules is complete and utter nonsense that can be disproven with a 5 second Goole search.

1. “Mandatory eight-hour workdays and no part-time hiring.”

WRONG. See: http://img690.imageshack.us/f/mtas.jpg/

2. “Tons of time off and little-to-no advanced notice required.”

Very misleading. In the MTA, if you take an excessive amount of sick time, it wil prevent you from getting promotions and they will verify if your sick by sending someone to your house.

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nycpat May 16, 2011 - 10:49 pm

To get a day off in RTO you have to request it 20 days in advance. No guarantee you’ll get it.

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 6:40 pm

Let’s bash the guy who makes $250k after working a massive amount of overtime. Pay no attention to John Paulson, who makes $2.4 million an HOUR and pays a lower tax rate than you do.

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Hank May 18, 2011 - 10:05 am

This is a false dichotomy.

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KPL May 16, 2011 - 8:17 pm

I thought overtime had to be approved? (Well, in most places; I don’t know how it exactly works in the LIRR.) If management is complaining about excessive OT, why don’t they just deny it?

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Donald May 16, 2011 - 8:58 pm

And if they deny the overtime, who is going to do the work? It is cheaper to give OT then to hire new workers.

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KPL May 17, 2011 - 7:20 pm

I understand how OT is cheaper than hiring new workers (no need to pay extra benefits and such), but then why is management complaining about it?

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BrooklynBus May 18, 2011 - 12:01 pm

True. I guess the question is how much of the overtime is necessary and how productive is it. I thought the LIRR work rules require a lot of unnecessary work, and hence the problem.

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