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MTA chairman: worker availability probe needed in curbing excessive overtime

An LIRR train at the Hicksville station during

An LIRR train at the Hicksville station during an evening rush hour in 2018. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The chairman of the MTA said Wednesday that the agency's efforts to curb high overtime rates should include examining the growing number of days off taken by workers — resulting in having to fill those jobs on overtime.

Speaking at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Wednesday, MTA chairman Patrick Foye said he is asking agency presidents to more closely examine “employee availability” — the number of days worked by employees after subtracting sick days, holidays, vacation days and other approved days off.

Foye said the average union worker at the MTA works about 40 weeks a year — a figure that has “consistently trended down” over the last decade. Foye noted that the average employee takes about 14 sick days per year.

“Availability is important for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s a driver of overtime. Availability impacts overtime, because employees that are out have to be backfilled, usually on overtime,” Foye said. “To be clear, most overtime is authorized, appropriate and performed. Although there have been instances of abuse … a low level of availability is largely the result of contractual provisions in collective bargaining agreements, and corresponding high and growing levels of overtime.”

Foye said he believed the issue of employee availability could be addressed both through better managing and through negotiations with unions, which are currently operating under expired contracts.

Addressing the board during a public comment period, subway train operator Seth Rosenberg attributed the decline in worker availability to a “punishing” work environment where managers “try to squeeze more and more out of” workers, while giving them fewer breaks.

“That is why we end up being sick. That is why we have trouble coming to work,” said Rosenberg, a shop steward with the Transportation Workers Union Local 100.

The MTA began reviewing its OT procedures following an April report by the Empire Center that revealed alarmingly high amounts of overtime among some workers, including the authority's top earner in 2018, LIRR chief measurement officer Thomas Caputo, who made $344,147 in overtime on top of his base salary of $117,499.

Other government agencies, including the MTA inspector general, the Queens district attorney, and the U.S. Attorney's Southern District, are also looking into potential overtime abuse among MTA workers.

To help ensure that employees are actually working when they are supposed to, the MTA recently called for the installation of biometric time clocks at all employee facilities that would require workers to scan their fingerprints when they arrive at work and leave for the day.

Updating their progress in the effort, which began in May, officials said 80 percent of the MTA's 74,000 employees now have access to the new biometric clocks. That number is expected to reach 95 percent by the end of August, when installation of 2,100 biometric time clocks is completed. 

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