Home MTA Economics DiNapoli audit targets overtime but says nothing new

DiNapoli audit targets overtime but says nothing new

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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nycpat August 6, 2010 - 1:27 am

Of the 60 high OT earners only 8 were TWU. All 8 in the bottom 5th. The only questionable OT example from NYCT was a supervisor. NYCTs OT management looks reasonable compared to RRs and B+T.

Nesta August 6, 2010 - 2:55 pm

In all of the articles in the papers today the employees are called MTA employees. If these ridiculous o.t. hounds worked for the TA the article would be calling them TWU thugs, TWU workers, ect. The double standard between the different branches of the MTA is sickening!

Benjamin Kabak August 6, 2010 - 2:57 pm

How is it a double standard? No one is highlighting any of the unions because the OT hours mount across different subagencies, different departments and different unions. This isn’t an issue specific to the TWU, and the TWU isn’t exempt from it. But no one is singling out the TWU either.

Nesta August 6, 2010 - 4:50 pm

Yes nobody is singling out the TWU because they aren’t the culprits.

There is no mention of the other unions involved!!! If the o.t. numbers that LIRR have instead belonged to the TA the wording of EVERY single article would be drastically different.

Al D August 6, 2010 - 8:59 am

13 MTA audits by DiNapoli? That is about 1 audit per quarter!! Is he the NYS Comptroller or the MTA IG? Dear Mr. DiNapoli, please tell us the total cost of these audits and why you chose to spend the money on these audits instead of returning the equivalent amount of your budget to NYS to be passed through to the MTA to help offset operating costs and likely avoid at least some of the service reductions?

Andrew August 6, 2010 - 9:40 am

Do you even think before you post?

Arnie August 6, 2010 - 9:47 am

Be nice Andy… he’s right! 13 audits in 3 years?! I wonder how much overtime the comptroller’s office put in…

Benjamin Kabak August 6, 2010 - 9:50 am

I don’t haven an issue with the number of audits he’s done. After all, he’s the comptroller; it’s his job to conduct these audits. I have an issue with the fact that he’s not saying anything the MTA’s own internal investigations have turned up. They know they have an overtime issue; they know they have unused real estate.

If DiNapoli can find some real cost savings and real structural problems, bring it on. An audit such as this one is just wasting time and money.

BrooklynBus August 6, 2010 - 7:55 pm

This is one time I will take the side of the MTA. You are correct Ben. This is not news unless he can show fraud or waste. You did state, however, that he did find unjustified or undocumented work. If that is true (which is not explained here) then it is not a waste of time and money. But just the fact that there is massive overtime, does not bother me if the overtime is justified like bus drivers filling in for sick drivers to cover all runs. I believe I read that the MTA stated that it was necessary to increase overtime because of all the layoffs. Since overtime is still cheaper than hiring additional employees, Napoli isn’t really uncovering waste with this report.

Andrew August 6, 2010 - 11:36 am

OK, fair enough, I should have been nice. Claiming that taking the audit money and investing it into the system would be wise is simply not a thought out idea. All that would do is cover the issues temporarily until they get worse and show up again. There are root issues here that have caused major issues. They’ve been going on for a long time, but it seems like Walder is actually trying to do something about it. The MTA is kinda like a poorly run football team. You have to exhibit patience for a few years before you cast final judgment. Otherwise, everyone is bound for failure.

Alon Levy August 6, 2010 - 6:31 pm

Walder is sometimes trying to do something about it. Other times, he pitches idiocies like having conductors check all commuter train passengers using longer-range smartcard readers.

Andrew August 6, 2010 - 7:01 pm

Oh no! There are two Andrews!

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