The MTA engaged in a very public and heated battle to slash staffing numbers last year in an effort to keep payroll expenses level, and it almost worked. According to a new report from the Empire Center, the MTA’s payroll increased by only $71 million — or 1.4 percent — last year as its headcount declined by 852 employees. The average MTA salary comes in at $71,237.
The report, a project of the conservative-leaning Manhanttan Institute, can be interpreted in numerous ways, and it again highlighted the MTA’s overtime expenses as labor costs will move to the forefront this fall. The topline findings are as they always are: More than 10 percent of the MTA’s workforce — administrative or otherwise — earned over $100,000 last year while 268 employees doubled their base pay through overtime and three tripled theirs. Jay Walder led the pack with his $350,000 salary while seven other executives earned more than $241,000. One Long Island Rail Road conductor earned $240,489, three times his base pay, through overtime while another took home $230,069. As the Center’s list of 100 highest paid employees shows, the top earners are split amongst administrative personnel and unionized workers.
The center, meanwhile, highlighted the engineers and conductors making bank via overtime. They found the following in the $150,000 club:
- 53 Metro-North conductors who averaged $90,367 over their base salaries of $76,127;
- 19 Long Island Railroad foremen who averaged $82,111 over their base salaries of $81,946; and
- 15 Metro-North engineers who averaged $75,929 over their base salaries of $80,521.
The MTA laid the blame for the payroll increase on the shoulders of its unionized workers. “In 2010, the MTA eliminated 3,500 positions, froze managerial salaries for the third straight year and cut 15% of administrative payroll, en route to an annual budget savings of more than $500 million,” the authority said in a statement. “Nonetheless, payroll did increase from 2009 to 2010 due to the 4% wage increase awarded by an arbitrator to the members of TWU Local 100.”
Nicole Gelinas analyzed the numbers and found that with fewer workers, those remaining are earning more due either to the TWU raises or overtime. She again noted how benefits have backed the MTA into a corner. “Without a doubt, these jobs are tough; it’s easier to write newspaper columns than to walk hot tracks or sit in a booth all night. But these jobs are not poorly paid,” she wrote. “The average New Yorker in the private sector earns about $55,120. The MTA worker earns 31 percent more — and has retirement security, while people in the private sector worry about whether they’ll be able to retire at all.”
Lee Zelding, the payroll tax employees who seemingly fails to understand how MTA payroll expenses and overtime allocation work, also issued a pointed statement: “Once again, a new report has been released highlighting the MTA’s continued fiscal mismanagement. This time the issue is with the MTA’s payroll. Whether it’s increasing payroll expenses, excessive salaries for administration, or abusive overpayments to employees, the MTA continues to come up short in bringing the expense side of the ledger in line with the revenue side of the ledger,” he said without making much sense.
Ultimately, it’s going to cost money for the MTA to stay afloat. New York straphangers want clean subways, and they want on-time performance. They want better facilities and more reliable rush hour trips. They want things that cost money — from track worker salaries to management. The MTA is going to try to freeze wages. Yet, at a certain point, overtime expenses are cheaper than hiring more workers, and labor costs are relatively fixed. That payroll went up only by 1.7 percent seems like a step in the right direction even if the path to fiscal responsibility has a long way to go.