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MTA official: IG report showed no evidence of widespread overtime fraud

LIRR president Phillip Eng noted that, through September,

LIRR president Phillip Eng noted that, through September, overtime at the railroad has dropped 13 percent as compared to the same period last year.  Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A pair of Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials on Monday came to the defense of LIRR workers, following the release last week of an MTA inspector general report they said showed no evidence of widespread overtime fraud.

At a Manhattan meeting of the MTA Board’s Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North committees, Vincent Tessitore Jr. — one of the board’s nonvoting labor representatives — said despite the attention paid to worker behavior, the report from MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny concluded only that MTA management “has to do a better job of keeping track of things.”

Pokorny’s investigation into the MTA’s high overtime found several shortcomings in the agency’s oversight of reported overtime. She said that, in the absence of a reliable system to verify employee time and attendance, some managers depend on the “honor system” to track employees’ hours worked.

The MTA Inspector General's office is among several, including those of federal and Queens prosecutors, to have launched a probe into potential fraud at the transit agency following an April report by the Empire Center for Public Policy that revealed alarmingly high overtime rates among some workers. Among them: now-retired chief measurement officer for the LIRR, Thomas Caputo, who made $344,147 in overtime last year — bringing his total annual pay to $461,646 — the most of any of the authority's 80,000 employees.

But lost in the discussion of how much overtime some employees earn, Tessitore said, has been the record amount of work taken on and completed by LIRR laborers in recent months — work he said illustrates the legitimacy of the claimed overtime. Earlier in the meeting, LIRR president Phillip Eng acknowledged the agency has been “carrying out an amount of work not seen in the history of the Long Island Rail Road.”

“We can justify a lot of what we don’t know by what is being accomplished. Clearly, when we’re replacing high-speed switches and replacing a mile rail, somebody is doing it,” Tessitore said. “A system that relies on honesty doesn’t necessarily mean that people are being dishonest. I think that really needs to be said.”

MTA Board member Robert Linn, who represents New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, similarly said he’s seen “very little to support” the “very harsh comments” made by some about the extent of alleged overtime fraud among workers.

Linn said even though MTA leaders make it a point to regularly praise their workforce in public, their comments belie “the constant drumbeat about . . . their inappropriate behavior that hasn’t been demonstrated.”

“I think there’s been little of looking at the exact problem, and more of denigrating the workforce,” Linn said.

MTA Board member Lawrence Schwartz, who has led the calls on the board for overtime reform, said he found Pokorny’s report troubling, and suggested the agency consider adding “integrity monitors” at all its agencies “so that someone is doing a double or triple check . . . to make sure that the overtime that is being submitted is legitimate and appropriate.”

Patrick Warren, the MTA’s chief safety officer, said such a measure is among those being considered by the Overtime Task Force that he heads.

Earlier in the meeting, Eng outlined some recent measures taken to address overtime at the LIRR — an issue he said he takes “very seriously.” Eng noted that, through September, overtime at the LIRR has dropped 13 percent as compared to the same period last year. Although he acknowledged that some of the change was due to improved weather in 2019, he said it also reflects better planning, management and oversight.

“That being said, I know there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Eng said.

Eng said the railroad already has installed nearly 500 biometric time clocks to record employee time and attendance, enrolled 5,700 employees in the new system, and established a system for employees working at third-party job sites to register in and out with on-site managers.

Eng said the railroad also is in the process of standardizing overtime approval forms for its engineering department, “strengthening” the review of time and attendance reports, and establishing an "executive level monthly" review of overtime with department heads and senior managers reporting to top railroad brass.

The LIRR also is working on implementing the recommendations of an overtime consultant report released in August, Eng said.

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