According to a payroll report by the Empire Center on Public Policy, 724 MTA employees made over $100K in overtime in 2023. Newsday transportation reporter Alfonso Castillo reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez; MTA

More than 700 MTA employees earned six figures in overtime last year, including the LIRR’s top overtime earner, who more than quadrupled her salary with the extra pay, according to a report released Wednesday.

Record-high overtime costs contributed to a $663 million increase in payroll at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the highest ever and a 9% increase compared with the previous year, according to the report.

The annual MTA payroll report compiled by the Empire Center for Public Policy revealed the highest overtime earner was Metro-North’s supervisor of structures and Grand Central Terminal, Harry Dobson, who made $254,638 on top of his $117,183 salary. His total compensation for 2023 was $381,255.

Total worker compensation could include other kinds of earnings, including retroactive pay in newly settled contracts.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • More than 700 MTA workers earned $100,000 or more in overtime last year, contributing to a 9% increase in payroll costs, according to a new report by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
  • Among the MTA's top 50 overtime earners, 23 worked for the LIRR, including a car repair person who more than quadrupled her salary with the extra pay.
  • MTA officials said that adjusted for inflation, spending has gone down in recent years, and called overtime a “strategic tool used to keep trains running.”

While Dobson was able to triple his salary, LIRR Long Island Rail Road car repair person Martina Eugene more than quadrupled her base pay of $75,169 by racking up $239,819 in overtime, according to the report. She made $331,190 last year.

In total, 724 MTA employees made more than $100,000 each in overtime. Among the top 50 overtime earners at the MTA — which includes New York City Transit subways and buses, Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bridges and Tunnels and MTA Police — 23 of them worked for the LIRR.

The MTA's total payroll last year was about $5.9 billion. MTA spokesperson Joana Flores noted  when adjusted for inflation, the transit authority's budget “is down in real dollars compared to prior years, even accounting for labor agreements that include wage increases.”

“The MTA is providing a ton more service with record on-time performance, and overtime, which is authorized in accordance with collective bargaining agreements, is a strategic tool used to keep trains running and the system safe,” Flores said in a statement. “That strategy has paid off — crime is down and on-time performance has surged, with schedules that include a substantially higher number of trains.”

MTA officials have previously attributed rising overtime costs to a high number of unfilled positions throughout the authority, unexpected weather events and large projects that require extra workers — like last year's opening of Grand Central Madison.

Union work rules blamed

The Empire Center, an Albany-based conservative think tank, in 2019 exposed record overtime spending that led to several fraud investigations.  Five current or former LIRR employees have since been convicted on various charges related to lying about their work hours.

While much of the scrutiny at the time over the MTA's high overtime costs focused on select cases of apparent fraud, Empire Center research director Ken Girardin said the bigger problem is “indefensible” union work rules that are easily exploited by workers. They include seniority-based overtime rules at some LIRR unions that allow a few veteran workers to hoard available overtime hours.

“The reality is, most of those eye-popping numbers … are the system working as intended,” Girardin said in an interview Wednesday. “Historically, [MTA officials] have been more interested in spending money than in seeking solutions.”

Newsday last month reported the MTA set a new overtime record in 2023, spending $1.42 billion — $80 million more than in 2022, according to MTA financial reports. MTA officials attributed much of the increased costs to job vacancies and said they remained as committed as ever to reining in overtime spending.

The new report noted, throughout the MTA, the rise in payroll in 2023 outpaced inflation, including at MTA Police, where pay climbed by 37% — the highest percentage of any MTA agency. At the LIRR, worker pay rose by $116 million, or 14%, over the previous year.

The four highest paid workers at the MTA in 2023 were all Bridges and Tunnels officers, including the authority’s highest compensated employee, Lt. Edwin Lee, who made $531,659, including $185,338 in retro pay and $181,065 in overtime, according to the report. The unusually high earnings among Bridge and Tunnel supervisors was due, in part, to a new contract that included 10 years of back pay, MTA officials said.

MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber made $400,999 in 2023 — enough to make him the authority's 14th-highest paid employee.

Anthony Simon, who heads the LIRR's largest union, questioned why concerns over worker overtime regularly “overshadow the bloated salaries and added managerial big salaried positions” that are also apparent in the MTA's payroll.

Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, said his union members “make no apologies for following the directives of management to work when called upon.”

The head of the LIRR's largest union said members make...

The head of the LIRR's largest union said members make no apologies for "following directives of management to work when called upon." Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

At the LIRR's Hicksville station Wednesday afternoon, commuters had a mixed reaction to the latest MTA pay numbers, with some supporting union workers being well-compensated for demanding jobs, and others pointing to the transit authority's history of wasteful spending at the expense of fare-paying riders.

“Prices are going up. If that means wages are going up, that's a good thing,” said Rory Meditz, 36, of Levittown, who believes working on the LIRR “is not the easiest job.”

Ronkonkoma resident Chris Cardone, 44, wondered if the rising overtime costs had something to do with the price of his monthly ticket also going up last year. 

“What do they care?” Cardone said. “They know there's no other show in town other than the Long Island Rail Road, so what's their incentive to improve?”

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