The MTA’s internal watchdog is criticizing the transit agency for putting "on hold" a key measure aimed at curbing overtime abuse — leaving its pay system vulnerable to "unscrupulous managers and employees."
In its latest quarterly report tracking the progress of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s overtime reforms, MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny noted that a half-dozen recommendations made by her office and by an outside overtime consultant remain outstanding, more than a year after they were adopted.
Key among them was the integration of a new Kronos biometric time clock system that the MTA aimed at verifying employee time and attendance. The MTA originally planned to have all its employees using the system by January 2020. The agency fell short of that goal, and the effort later was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pokorny said the MTA was set to develop a strategy to get the effort back on track and to integrate the new time clocks with its payroll system. But that effort is "moot" now, because the MTA has tied it to a separate effort to replace two other antiquated timekeeping systems in its subway and bus division, said the report, which called it "disappointing" that the change in plan would come a year after its adoption.
"MTA Management must fully institute the overtime reform recommendations if they want to close the door on time and attendance abuse," Pokorny said in a statement. "I understand that many factors, from the pandemic to institutional resistance, can serve as excuses for not fully implementing our recommendations, but that’s a disservice to our riders and taxpayers."
MTA chief operating officer Mario Peloquin, in a statement, said the agency appreciates Pokorny's "continued focus on overtime reform," and has implemented most of the recommendations of its overtime consultant. He noted that the MTA has a five-year plan to cut overtime costs by $1 billion.
"We are fully committed to complete integration of Kronos as we continue to put the tools in place to validate, monitor and control timekeeping and overtime," Peloquin said.
Addressing the stalled progress with the biometric time clocks, MTA chairman Patrick Foye, testifying at a New York State legislative budget hearing on Tuesday, said "the installation is near completion, while there is work yet to do."
"We will be reporting to the board … about steps that are being taken in response to the IG’s report," Foye said. "We’re very focused on controlling overtime in general and especially abuse of overtime."
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who asked Foye about the delays, said there was "a serious credibility issue on Long Island, when riders are asked to pay more while there’s overtime fraud occurring." The MTA is expected to take up its latest fare increase later this year.
Pokorny’s office — and law enforcement agencies — began looking into potential time and attendance fraud at the MTA last year after a payroll report by the Empire Center for Public Policy revealed alarming overtime rates among the agency’s top earners — particularly at the LIRR. The MTA’s highest-paid employee in 2018, LIRR chief measurement operator Thomas Caputo, made more than $344,000 in overtime, on top of his $117,499 annual salary. He has retired.
Last month, federal prosecutors arrested Caputo and four other current or former MTA employees on overtime fraud charges that allegedly netted them more than $1 million combined pay for time when they were not doing their jobs.
Other overtime reform recommendations yet to be instituted by the MTA include improved electronic record-keeping for authorized overtime shifts, and the creation of "monthly reports of 'high earners' or 'high rollers’ that show employees with excessive daily work hours over many consecutive days."
Anthony Simon, who heads the LIRR’s largest union, questioned why the MTA’s "hundreds of high-level management positions" aren’t among the "high earners" being targeted. He said LIRR laborers "are called to work and follow the directives they are given."
"Our position remains the same: Call us in, or ask us to stay, and we will work. Tell us to punch in and we will. Just appreciate our sacrifice," said Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. "It’s physically demanding work that requires flexibility to complete projects."
Pokorny’s report did commend the LIRR for its "notable work in addressing some overtime reform recommendations," including by creating a system to track the progress of adopted reforms, and holding monthly meetings with the railroad president to discuss them.
According to the MTA’s latest financial report, the agency spent $916 million on overtime in 2020 — a decrease of about 32% from the previous year. The agency attributed the improvement to "tighter management controls," as well as lower maintenance costs and reduced schedules stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.