The Long Island Rail Road’s top union official is calling out the MTA for posting several management and executive job openings, even while threatening to lay off workers to help close a budget deficit brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent last week to Patrick Foye, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent organization — Anthony Simon questioned the MTA’s decision to “post 10 new high-level positions [while] on the brink of the worst financial crisis in its history.”
The advertised jobs come with a range in annual salaries, from as low as $58,000 for an application developer to $273,000 for a chief operating officer for New York City Transit — a new position created to help oversee the authority’s bus and subway system.
Last week, New York City Transit acting president Sarah Feinberg defended the MTA’s decision to flesh out the agency’s senior management ranks.
“I don’t know about you, but I will take all the experienced help I can get in running a 54,000-person company,” Feinberg said. “It makes sense for a company of our size to have a chief operating officer.”
The MTA, even after receiving $3.8 billion in emergency aid from the federal government, said it faces a potential year-end budget deficit of about $4 billion, largely due to the loss of rider fares and tax revenue. The shortfall could grow to more than $10 billion, or about 40% of the transit agency's overall budget, by next year, MTA officials have said.
While waiting on another potential round of federal aid, MTA officials have said all options are on the table, including potentially laying off workers.
Simon, in his letter, suggested the financial picture is contradicted by the agency’s move to fill several management jobs advertised since June, including some newly created ones, like deputy chief of talent acquisition and deputy chief of organizational design and development.
“What message does this send your essential workforce who are incredibly concerned that they and their heroic efforts may soon be on the street?” asked Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, which represents about half of the LIRR's union employees.
Simon went on to blast the MTA for its “irresponsible decision-making to create more and more top brass jobs, and to hire more and more outside consultants to coach the agency on what it has been unable to manage successfully.”
The MTA has said layoffs would be a last resort.
Appearing on Bloomberg TV on Monday, Foye said the first priority in cutting cost is “reducing non-personnel expense.”
“We're going through every consulting contract and contract that doesn't involve personnel. We've cut 100 million dollars out of our overtime already in 2020,” Foye said. “I believe there's more that can be reduced.”
The job postings disagreement would seem to mark an end to the truce between the railroad’s unions and management during the pandemic. Before the outbreak, the sides were clashing on a range of issues, including management’s drive to reduce overtime costs and a plan to eliminate as many as 2,700 MTA jobs as part of a consolidation effort.
The MTA is yet to reach a new contract with LIRR unions, whose last deal came up for renewal in April 2019. According to documents, the unions are seeking 5% annual raises over three years, while management is looking for numerous changes to employee wage structures, benefits and work rules, including the elimination of double-time pay, which some employees accrue after working a certain number of consecutive overtime hours.