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Average LIRR employee's earnings in 2014 rose 27 percent to $106,000, report finds

The average annual LIRR salary jumped by 27

The average annual LIRR salary jumped by 27 percent last year, according to a new report. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The average Long Island Rail Road employee earned $106,000 last year -- an increase of 27 percent over the previous year, according to a new report.

The report put out by the nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank that promotes policy reform, also found that one in four Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers were paid six figures in 2014 -- up from about one in seven in 2013.

The MTA agency with the highest average earners was MTA Police, whose employees, on average, made $135,598 last year, up 7 percent from 2013.

Empire Center analyst Ken Girardin said Thursday that riders and taxpayers should judge for themselves whether the payouts are appropriate, especially because the MTA is funded through fare and tax dollars.

"The MTA payroll is a major component of their operating expenses," Girardin said. "They need to be examined to see whether the MTA is being responsible stewards of the public's money."

The sizable jumps in total earnings from 2013 are due, in part, to new contract agreements reached last year by the MTA and its unions that included retroactive pay.

The LIRR deal, reached a year ago, included annual raises dating to 2010, when workers' last contract expired.

It assured workers raises of 17 percent over 6 1/2 years, but also required employees to pay first-time health care contributions of 2 percent of weekly wages. Union members ratified the contract by a wide margin.

"When the MTA settled several outstanding labor contracts last year, tens of thousands of employees who had gone years without a raise received one-time-only payments for retroactive wage increases," said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, adding that the "flawed" report should reflect the back pay anomaly.

But Girardin pointed out that a considerable portion of the MTA's payroll is overtime costs. The $122 million in overtime paid to LIRR workers in 2014 was about a quarter the size of the $508 million paid in regular wages.

That percentage was even higher at MTA Police, where regular wages cost the authority $70.6 million and overtime cost $18.4 million.

MTA Police Benevolent Association President Michael O'Meara said the overtime costs were the result of the MTA not keeping up with hiring.

"We need to hire more police officers. That would significantly reduce the amount of overtime expenditures for the MTA," O'Meara said. "We're the police . . . We're responsible for the safety of millions of commuters a year. And we have to be there."

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes the LIRR Commuter Council, said the MTA should examine if overtime "is the most effective way to meet some of the needs they have." But, he added, paying overtime is often the best option.

"If you're paying overtime, you're not paying a lot of the additional fringe benefits. You're not paying another 10, 15 or 20 percent in insurance premiums," Henderson said. "It may make sense."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized total earnings reported by the Empire Center for Public Policy as salaries.

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