Audit targets MTA overtime, pension padding

Thirty workers, including supervisors, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro-North Railroad earned nearly $1 million in combined overtime and padded their pensions last year because railroad management didn't tamp down excessive overtime hours, a state audit has found.

The review released Wednesday by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli concluded that employees of the Hudson and Harlem Line Signal Construction Unit received "potentially fraudulent" payments due to long-term scheduling practices that could have been avoided.

For calendar year 2010, auditors found that these practices cost Metro-North $991,208 in overtime and $216,128 in regular pay to members of the Signal Construction Unit. Besides the overtime and regular pay, the compensation "will inflate future pension payments for these employees by about $5.5 million," the audit states.

One 58-year-old assistant supervisor boosted his annual pension from $47,713 to $109,429 after the overtime, the audit states.

The audit's findings will be forwarded to the MTA's Inspector General's Office for further investigation, said Eric Sumberg, spokesman for the state comptroller.

Sumberg said there isn't a similar audit ongoing involving the Long Island Rail Road's Signal Construction Unit but that overtime payments could be reviewed in the future. In July 2010, LIRR officials said they projected a double-digit reduction in overtime costs by tightening internal controls at the end of 2010.

Officials with the MTA Wednesday rejected the audit's assertion that fraud was involved with the money paid to the workers and their supervisors.

Too often, the audit states, MTA managers scheduled signal crew workers for overtime shifts at night, when work is less disruptive to train schedules, which can trigger an anti-fatigue federal work rule called Hours of Service. The rule generally states workers can be on the job up to 12 hours in a 24-hour period, and then they must get at least 10 hours of rest time.

Some labor agreements state employees covered by the federal rule can receive Hours of Service payments for their required rest hours even if those hours coincide with their regularly scheduled work hours.

The audit found that 2010 payroll records for 30 Signal Construction Unit employees showed that 28 of them were paid a total of $216,128 in Hours of Service payments for hours that were not worked.

"These Hours of Service payments were the result of the scheduling of excessive overtime," auditors found.

Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for the MTA, would not answer questions on the record about the audit Wednesday but issued an MTA statement that said the transit agency seeks more flexible schedules during contract negotiations with unionized workers.

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