Metro-North supervisor Anthony Zimbardi has a reputation for being a "workaholic," picking up shifts on nights and weekends, most recently while laying track for one of the commuter rail's major projects last year, a new station in West Haven, Conn.
It's paid off.
Over the last five years, Zimbardi took in $417,000 in overtime, some $35,000 more than the $382,000 he's earned from a salary that's hovered in the high $70,000s most of those years, Metro-North payroll records obtained by Newsday show. Between 2008 and 2012, Zimbardi took home a payout of nearly $800,000, more than doubling his salary.
Zimbardi's payout not only means more money in his pocket now but, once he retires, a more sizable nest egg than he would have without the overtime bump.
That's because Metro-North's pension system is roughly factored by an average of a worker's last five years on the job, officials said. The more they make in their last years on the job, the more they'll see in retirement.
That's the case for John R. Moore, an assistant supervisor, who made $302,000 in salary and overtime in the three years before he retired in May 2011, the records show.
In two of those years, 2008 and 2009, Moore made $106,000 and $117,000 respectively at a time when his pay was $82,000, according to the data. In 2009, Moore made nearly $200,000 in salary and overtime, ranking him just slightly behind the $215,000 that Metro-North president Howard Permut earned that year.
Similarly, signal maintainer Gan Nguyen made more in overtime than he did in salary during three of his last four full years at the railroad.
Between 2009 and 2011, Nguyen made $254,000 in overtime. During the same years his salary, which was in the high $60,000s, totaled $205,000, according to the railroad records.
For two of those years, 2010 and 2011, Nguyen made more than $150,000 in salary and overtime, ranking him in the top tier of Metro-North's money earners. He retired in June 2012.
Zimbardi, Moore and Nguyen could not be reached for comment.
Chris Silvera, the secretary-treasurer of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 808, which represents Zimbardi, said that while the overtime numbers may be high, lost is the fact that it's money earned in the middle of the night or on weekends away from family so the work won't interfere with a railroad that runs on time.
According to Silvera, Zimbardi, whom he's known for some 30 years, has always been a hard worker.
"These guys are all producing at a high rate," Silvera said.
"If you hired 200 people, would it cut into overtime?" Silvera said. "Yeah, I'm sure it would. But these are guys with experience. There's an efficiency to doing it this way. (Others) tend to look at it like it's a criminal enterprise."
PENSION COSTS A CONCERN FOR MTA
Rising pension costs was among the reasons former MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota cited last year when seeking board approval for a 7.5 percent revenue increase at each of the agency's subway, rail and bus systems, including Metro-North. The hike went into effect in March, bumping up most Metro-North ticket prices by 8.2 percent to 9.3 percent.
Last year's pension payout was $76.2 million, an increase of $3.5 million from 2011, according to Metro-North officials. However, MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said, the jump shouldn't be attributed to the overtime numbers since that figure actually declined from $78 million in 2011 to $73 million last year.
Zimbardi's nearly $114,000 in overtime in 2012 was tops among Metro-North employees and his nearly $190,000 payout ranked him sixth among Metro-North's 6,400 employees.
But he's far from alone. Some 175 Metro-North workers took in $50,000 or more in overtime last year, according to analysis of Metro-North payroll records Newsday obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Sixteen made more in overtime than they did in salary.
The railroad was criticized in a 2011 New York State comptroller's report for failing to control overtime pay in its Signal Construction Unit. The report said some $1 million in overtime was the result of "a pervasive culture of management acceptance of long-term practices, employee feelings of entitlement to additional compensation, and ineffective internal controls in Metro-North's payroll office."
SENIORITY RULES IN DOLING OUT METRO-NORTH OVERTIME
Union officials say the railroad's long-standing practice has been to give senior-level workers the first shot at overtime. If they pass, the next worker on the depth chart steps up.
"If the No. 1 guy keeps eating, the No. 2 is going to be hungry," Silvera said. "If you're the No. 2 guy, you're crying as much as the public."
In 2007, Metro-North negotiated new contracts with several of its major unions, which limited the amount of overtime pay that could be factored into a worker's pension payout. Several unions agreed to a cap of 20 percent of base pay, officials said.
But the 2007 deal only affected workers hired that year or later. The rest, like Zimbardi, Moore and Nguyen, and thousands of others, were grandfathered in.
And, Local 808 opted against the 20 percent cap, preferring instead to pay for a portion of their health care costs for the first time. They have, however, agreed to cap at $150,000 the amount of total compensation annually that could be counted toward their members' pension.
Union officials argue it's a fair deal.
"The cost of living is going up and the value of your pension is going down," Silvera said. "The cost of living eventually catches up to you."