Overtime, retirement payouts and other compensation helped boost the pay of some MTA dispatchers, engineers and train car mechanics to nearly $200,000 last year, and in a few cases even more, according to an Albany-based nonprofit research center.
And more than one in four of the Long Island Rail Road's 7,046 employees earned more than $100,000 last year, according to data published by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an arm of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
They were among more than 8,000 Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers - more than 10 percent of the agency's workforce - who for a second consecutive year made six figures in total yearly pay, the center's analysis showed. The nonprofit published the data Wednesday on its website, SeeThroughNY.net.
For instance, 11 railroad car mechanics earned an average of $167,342 in 2009, more than $100,000 over their annual base pay of $64,865. One Long Island Rail Road conductor, who retired last year, made more than $230,000.
The research found that 23 LIRR gang foremen averaged $81,718 over their base pay of $82,249.
MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin cited overtime and pension considerations as factors in driving the salary totals.
"There are certain cases where overtime is taken advantage of to rack up big numbers," Soffin said. "I would guess most of the high earners are in the window of pension calculation to inflate their pensions."
Request yields records
The payroll data was provided to Empire Center after the nonprofit filed requests under the state's open records law, he said.
Salary totals in the nonprofit's data analysis did not distinguish between workers who retired in 2009 and workers who were active throughout the year.
Workers who retired in 2009 received payouts for unused sick days and vacation time, which boosted their earnings, according to the LIRR. Some also received "penalty payments" specified under union contracts - cash paid to workers who were needed to work in a job different from their job classification.
Lise Bang-Jensen, a spokeswoman for the Empire Center, acknowledged that retiring workers, whose pay could have been inflated by tens of thousands of dollars, were included with active workers.
"It's still money going out the door," Bang-Jensen said. "And it's indicative of the type of contracts they negotiated."
Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, which represents many LIRR workers, including track workers, conductors and car repairmen, said his members are called in constantly for overtime - often seven days a week - because the LIRR has a shortage of employees.
"My guys are called in to work and they work," Simon said. He added that many managers make $200,000 or more for a 40-hour workweek, but that is not publicized or the source of controversy.
Costly union work rules were noted last month at an MTA briefing. One example cited then was a work rule that requires an LIRR engineer to get an extra day's pay if asked to operate both an electric train and a diesel in the same shift. Another was a MTA Bridges and Tunnels employee who doubled the size of his pension by loading up on overtime before retiring.
MTA vows to tackle OT costs
MTA officials vowed to rein in overtime costs. The agency spends $560 million each year on overtime.
"Some of these numbers are pretty amazing; folks basically tripling their salaries," said William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.
Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a riders' advocacy group, said, "Clearly the MTA has to do better at managing overtime and padded pensions. The numbers are pretty astonishing."
He said he doesn't know where the blame lies - both work rules and poor management play a role. "I generally believe them [MTA officials], that they are trying to deal with practices and management that has been in place for decades," he said.
In a statement, the MTA said: "We are in the process of overhauling every aspect of our business, including the elimination of about 3,000 positions this year. One key part of this effort is a focus on the work rules, pension padding and management oversight that lead to some of the unnecessary overtime."
With Bart Jones
Some of LIRR's top earners in 2009
- Straight time $67,772
- Sick buyout $56,543
- Vacation buyout $39,933
- Overtime $67,061
- Miscellaneous $2,193
- Total $233,502
Supervisor, crew dispatcher, active employee
- Straight time $93,268
- Overtime $135,245
- Total $228,513
Locomotive engineer, retired
- Straight time $66,996
- Sick buyout $37,260
- Vacation buyout $38,647
- Overtime $46,962
- Penalty payments* $27,324
- Total $217,189
*Work outside job description
- Straight time $60,892
- Sick time buyout $50,598
- Vacation buyout $30,697
- Overtime $44,482
- Penalty payments $8,359
- Total $195,028
- Straight time $74,762
- Overtime $52,729
- Penalty payments $94,614
- Total $222,105