Federal prosecutors in New York have opened an investigation into apparent exorbitant overtime pay at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the state-operated transit agency responsible for trains, buses, and subways in and around New York City — according to a New York Times report.
Overtime payments rose 16 percent at the MTA last year, representing a $418 million increase in employee payouts, per the Times. The payroll increases were first disclosed last month in a report from the nonprofit, public watchdog group The Empire Center, which collects statewide payroll data on public employees.
According to data obtained by the nonprofit, one employee at the Long Island Rail Road, Thomas Caputo, earned a total of $461,646 last year, due in part to hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay. Caputo's earnings rank higher than what the president of the subway system makes and surpass the combined salaries of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The Times reports that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are examining the timesheets of Caputo and more than a dozen other employees who work at the transit systems in New York City and Long Island. MTA board members and union representatives have previously clashed over suspicions about lucrative overtime pay at the agency.
The Empire Group, in its April report, disclosed that two subway system employees, Michael Gunderson and Anthony Jones, each earned more than $350,000 as maintenance supervisors due to overtime pay boosts. At Metro-North, the branch of the MTA that services the city's northern suburbs of Westchester County and beyond, 77 employees collected over $100,000 in overtime alone. According to the watchdog, 125 Metro-North employees amassed enough overtime to more than double their salaries last year.
Union officials have argued that ramped-up maintenance projects are behind the surge in overtime hours. Since Andy Byford was brought in as president of the New York City Transit Authority — the division of the MTA that deals specifically with mass transit within the city — the agency has undergone a flurry of new activity designed to modernize the subway's century-old infrastructure and maintain system performance as equipment breakdowns snarl underground traffic on a near-constant basis.
Part of the fault for the runaway overtime hours could be attributed to a recordkeeping practice that dates back to the 19th century. Certain union employees at the Long Island Rail Road submit handwritten accounts of their hours worked. Despite the installation of biometric clocks years ago, the railroad's inspector general found that management was afraid that using them could have "an adverse impact on employee productivity."
A study from the Citizens Budget Commission found that system maintenance workers at the Long Island Rail Road are already the least productive of the five largest commuter rail systems in the country. The report found that if railroad maintenance employees could match the productivity of their sister agency, the Metro North, whose employees came in fourth, they could save the MTA $86 milion.
An emergency MTA board meeting last Friday reportedly turned into a shouting match, with union representatives recriminating board members over what they view as unfair accusations of misconduct relating to overtime.
Governor Cuomo, who is able to appoint key members of the MTA board, has in the past accused workers of outright fraud. The MTA has begun new contract negotiations with the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the largest union in the agency, representing subway and bus employees. Overtime pay and timekeeping practices are certain to be at the fore of these discussions.