A key piece of the MTA's strategy to curb wage...

A key piece of the MTA's strategy to curb wage abuse was the installation of biometric time clocks at employee facilities, but the COVID-19 crisis suspended that initiative. Credit: Craig Ruttle

A Long Island Rail Road employee accused of leaving work early, showing up late and taking a company car home nearly two dozen times over a four-month period has accepted a three-month unpaid suspension and a "last chance warning," railroad officials said Friday.

The case against the supervisory control maintainer illustrates how the campaign launched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR's parent agency — to eliminate time and attendance fraud among workers is just "window dressing," a union leader said.

According to an LIRR document obtained by Newsday, electrician Kenneth Nittoly, 43, of Long Beach faced several internal charges, including theft of wages and going absent without leave, for a series of incidents this year during which he "arrived late, left early, and/or failed to remain on duty" during his entire shift. He is also alleged to have taken an LIRR vehicle home with him without authorization.

Nittoly could not be reached for comment. Public records show he earned $108,291 last year.

"Kenneth Nittoly clearly violated LIRR policy and his collective bargaining agreement and pled guilty to those violations," railroad spokeswoman Meredith Daniels said. "His actions are not representative of the vast majority of the railroad’s workforce who do the right thing, going above and beyond, every day."

An LIRR internal investigation uncovered 22 separate incidents between June and September when Nittoly allegedly used a company vehicle "as transportation to and from work" and kept it at his home overnight.

According to a letter sent by the LIRR to Nittoly, that included an 11-day stretch, between June 12 and June 22, during which the vehicle "remained at your residence while you were on vacation until you returned to work."

While not defending the actions of Nittoly, Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 589 — the union representing Nittoly — said more outrageous than Nittoly’s behavior was the fact that LIRR management allowed it to go unchecked for so long.

"He definitely should be in trouble, but he shouldn’t be the only one," said Sanchez, who questioned how it was possible that LIRR managers wouldn’t notice an employee, or a vehicle, not being where they were supposed to be on 22 different occasions.

"He wasn’t doing his job, but nobody was doing their job," Sanchez added. "My job is to protect by members, but I can’t compete with incompetence at the LIRR."

The MTA came under scrutiny because of a payroll report by the Empire Center for Public Policy that showed how overtime significantly padded the pay of the MTA’s top earners — particularly at the LIRR. The MTA’s top earner in 2018, LIRR chief measurement operator Thomas Caputo, made more than $344,000 in overtime, on top of his $117,499 annual salary. He since has retired.

A key piece of the MTA’s strategy to curb wage abuse was the installation of biometric time clocks at employee facilities that would require workers to scan their fingers to record when they arrive and leave work. The agency had said all of its 74,000 employees would be using the technology this year. But in March, it suspended the requirement that employees scan their fingers because of COVID-19 safety concerns.

Sanchez said Nittoly wasn’t required to punch in for work. LIRR officials would not confirm that, but said they have conducted announced reviews to ensure employees are adhering to work rules.

"Supervisors identified this issue and brought it to management’s attention, leading to the investigation and subsequent discipline, putting an end to this electrician's flagrant abuse," Daniels said.

Nittoly’s case follows that of another LIRR employee recently accused of not being where he was supposed to be during work hours. MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny last month revealed that an LIRR car cleaner repeatedly responded to emergency calls as a North Babylon volunteer firefighter while on the LIRR’s time. That employee, Michael Elco, since has resigned.

Sanchez said the two cases point to the ineffectiveness of the MTA’s publicized efforts to curb wage abuse.

"They’re sitting there going, ‘We’re doing a good job.’ No, you’re not," Sanchez said. "We tell our guys, ‘Be where you’re supposed to be.’ But that falls on deaf ears when their immediate supervisors don’t care."

Ken Gerardin, director of strategic initiatives at the Empire Center, whose payroll report spurred the MTA’s time and attendance reforms, said Sanchez "has got a good point."

"This is a problem that extends much further than one guy and one supervisor," Gerardin said. "When you’re dealing with a culture problem, you have to get folks at every level to recognize that there’s a problem and be invested in addressing the problem."

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