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.