The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which hiked fares for riders this month, paid one employee more than $344,000 in overtime in 2018 in addition to his $117,499 salary, according to data released this week by a fiscal watchdog group.
The transit agency last year paid its workers a total of $418 million in overtime, a 16 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy.
A database of employee salaries shows the top 10 earners pulled in more than $350,000 each, and seven of them worked for the Long Island Rail Road, which is operated by the MTA.
The MTA on Thursday disputed the total payroll increases in the data. Empire Center said its figures came after reviewing employee overtime documents through a Freedom of Information Law request.
Thomas Caputo, a chief measurement operator for the LIRR, made $344,147 in overtime plus his annual salary, bringing his total compensation to $461,646, according to the database. He retired this month, the MTA said.
“The collective bargaining agreement and its rules about seniority allow those with the most years on the job to get first pick at overtime opportunities,” said Max Young, an MTA spokesman. “We are absolutely committed to reducing spending, including a hard target of an additional $500 million in annual savings across all MTA agencies next year.”
Caputo could not be reached Thursday for comment. He drove the advanced track geometry car, operated the inspection equipment and maintained the car, the MTA said. The track geometry car is used to check railroad tracks for defects, the agency said.
The LIRR’s overtime spending increased $50 million — almost 30 percent — from $175.4 million in 2017 to $224.6 million in 2018, according to the Empire Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank group that annually breaks down the MTA's payroll.
The overtime spending came during a year in which the LIRR had its worse on-time performance percentage, 90.4, in nearly two decades.
Fifty-eight of the 100 highest-paid MTA employees in 2018, including the top four, worked for the LIRR, according to the report. Pay included overtime and other extra pay, such as shift differentials.
The two other highest-paid hourly employees for the LIRR were surfacing foreman Dallas Bazemore III, at $395,397, and track foreman Joseph Ruzzo, at $380,407. In salaried management positions, the three highest paid were Patrick Nowakowski, former agency president, at $454,288; Phillip Eng, current LIRR president, at $294,243; and Afshin Hezarkhani, chief engineer of special projects, at $260,380.
“Sixty percent of MTA costs overall are on personnel. And when those costs go up, you either have to collect more money or do less. It makes sense to focus the conversation on that,” said Ken Girardin, a policy analyst at the Empire Center. “Overtime is a normal part of managing any organization. There will always be overtime. But when you see a jump in overtime, it’s worth noting.”
LIRR employees on average earned $34,000 in overtime pay last year, 50 percent more than 2017’s average of $22,701, according to the report. LIRR payroll spending last year grew by more than 10 percent, or $84 million.
Since 2008, the railroad has increased payroll spending by $280 million, or 45 percent. At the same time, the number of employees increased by 9.6 percent. LIRR employees were paid an average of $112,404 last year, compared to $84,484 in 2008.
Overall, the MTA spent more than $7 billion on salaries and wages for its 80,057 employees in 2018.
Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesman, said in an email that payroll rose $238 million, from $5.7 billion in 2017 to $5.938 billion last year. Overtime costs, meanwhile, increased by $122 million, from $1.202 billion in 2017 to $1.324 billion, he said.
The MTA has been trying to cut costs amid a dire budget forecast. It expects a billion-dollar budget gap by 2022 — even with another fare hike planned for 2021. To help close the shortfall, the agency said it is targeting fare evaders, calling for police to catch people who don’t pay on city buses and subways. Fare evasion costs the MTA $225 million last year, according to the authority.
Tarek reasoned that overtime often is more cost-effective than hiring full-time workers.
“In the meantime, the MTA is undertaking very aggressive cost-cutting measures across all agencies, achieving more than [$2 billion] in recurring savings with a target for an additional $500 million of savings next year,” Tarek said in a statement. “We’re also undergoing reforms, including a forensic audit, consolidation and reorganization, a reduction in construction costs across the system, and ultimately the net savings will be far greater than any investments being made to achieve these major improvements.”
Top 10 MTA salaries in 2018
Thomas Caputo, LIRR: $461,646
Patrick A. Nowakowski, LIRR: $454,288
Dallas Bazemore III, LIRR: $395,397
Joseph M. Ruzzo, LIRR: $380,407
Michael G. Gundersen, NYC Transit Authority: $379,454
Veronique Hakim, MTA headquarters: $366,441
Christopher M. Kroll, LIRR: $354,168
Christopher J. Jerome, LIRR: $352,935
Ricardo G. Ruiz, LIRR: $350,575
Anthony Jones, NYC Transit Authority: $350,360
Source: Empire Center for Public Policy