An LIRR train at Jamaica station. According to the latest report,...

An LIRR train at Jamaica station. According to the latest report, the MTA last year paid 566 workers $100,000 or more in overtime, up from 320 in 2021. Of those, 288 worked for the LIRR. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Overtime at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “surged” by $200 million last year, despite years of promises by MTA leaders to rein in the high cost of extra pay for workers, a new report shows.

The $1.3 billion spent in 2022 was the MTA’s highest overtime bill since 2018, when the same payroll report by the Empire Center for Public Policy — a conservative think tank — exposed a record $1.38 billion in overtime spending and led to several fraud investigations, and to five current or former LIRR employees being convicted on various charges related to lying about their work hours.

Among the top 10 overtime earners at the MTA last year, six worked at the LIRR. Nearly 300 Long Island Rail Road employees made more than $100,000 in overtime last year — more workers than at any other MTA agency — according to the report.

With the MTA recently receiving an extra $1 billion in annual state aid from taxes, expecting another $1 billion next year from new congestion pricing tolls, and raising fares and tolls next month, Ken Girardin, fellow at the Empire Center, expects the MTA’s overtime problem won’t get much better anytime soon.

“The incentive for efficiency is lower than it’s been in a long time,” Girardin said.

In a statement, MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said overtime is necessary to deliver service, maintain infrastructure, and recover from weather-related disruptions with "thousands of positions still unfilled."

"However, because of long-standing union agreements, in many cases the distribution of overtime among employees is determined by seniority which can result in some employees getting a disproportionate share," Donovan said. "We will continue to look for ways to control overtime — especially when it goes to a few high earners."

LIRR union leader defends wages

The MTA’s top overtime earner in 2022, Metro-North structures supervisor Harry Dobson, made $345,663, $229,771 of which came from overtime. 

The second-highest overtime earner was LIRR assistant station master Kendell Ward, who made $226,570.32 on top of his $108,968.38 salary. His total earnings, including other types of pay, were $335,638.70. 

According to the latest report, the MTA last year paid 566 workers $100,000 or more in overtime, a 77% increase from 320 in 2021. The 288 earning that much at the LIRR were more than twice as many than at New York City Transit, which has 103 employees in the “six-figure overtime club,” as the report called it.

Among the MTA’s approximately 70,000 employees, 1,133 more than doubled their regular pay with overtime, up from 835 the previous year. 

An LIRR train at a Mineola stop. Nearly 300 LIRR employees...

An LIRR train at a Mineola stop. Nearly 300 LIRR employees made more than $100,000 in overtime last year. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Anthony Simon, who heads the LIRR's largest union, said the railroad's labor force "makes no apologies for working 60-70-hour workweeks" to earn wages that are less than many "high-level managers."

The highest-paid employee at the MTA last year was chairman and CEO Janno Lieber, who made $401,996. No. 3 was interim LIRR president and Metro-North president Catherine Rinaldi, who made $372,639.

Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, noted that several major infrastructure projects touted by executives, like the LIRR's new Grand Central Madison station and the Third Track in Nassau, were completed "on the backs of an understaffed workforce who worked around the clock at the request of management."

Lawmakers' policy decisions cited

After setting the record in 2018, the MTA instituted several reforms aimed at reining in overtime costs, including closer monitoring of employees through biometric time clocks. Overtime fell to $1.1 billion by 2020 before ticking up to $1.12 billion in 2021, and "last year surged to nearly $1.3 billion" according to the report.

Girardin blamed the high overtime rate at the MTA on state leaders’ failure to make meaningful reforms in work rules that govern collective bargaining agreements at the MTA.

“I think it speaks to, more than anything else, the State Legislature pretending that the MTA’s labor issues are like a natural phenomenon, like they came out of a geyser in the ground,” Girardin said. “They are the result of specific policy decisions.”

One of those decisions was last week’s approval by the MTA Board of a new contract for bus and subway workers that will pay them about 10% more in raises over three years. The new deal could establish a pattern for LIRR unions, which are expected to begin negotiations for a new contract in the coming months.

During the same meeting last week, the MTA approved its most recent rate hike, which will increase fares, including on the LIRR, by about 4%, and bridge and tunnel tolls by about 6%. The increase will generate an additional $305 million annually in revenue, but Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore), a frequent critic of MTA spending, pointed out that the $200 million increase in overtime costs "will eat up over half" of it.

"The fact that they can't control their overtime is a clear indication of there being mismanagement," Rhoads said. "And the frustrating thing, on the part of commuters and on the part of taxpayers, is that we continue in government to bail them out without asking for any accountability."

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