When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) turned to former Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Lisette Camilo in December, naming her the agency’s new Chief Administrative Officer, she was tasked with reigning in the enormous overtime costs that were exacerbated during the COVD-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, the MTA announced that overtime spending remained at the 2020 level despite strategic assignments of overtime to ensure the best possible levels of service on subways and buses.
Staffing levels in 2021 had been reduced due to attrition and a hiring freeze that was put in place during the pandemic. Despite significant operational challenges faced by the MTA and its operating agencies, overtime spending was reduced in 2021 when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Overtime spending was $217 million less than it was in 2018, with a projection of $1 billion in overtime reductions through 2024.
These reductions were achieved through a variety of initiatives put in place over the last three years, including the adoption of strengthened policies, practices and procedures and the introduction of new tools designed to help the MTA better manage the strategic use of overtime.
“The fact that we were able to hold the line during a period in which staffing shortages required the use of scheduled overtime as a strategic way to maintain the levels of subway and bus service expected by New Yorkers speaks for the effectiveness of systemic controls,” Camilo said. The Long Island Rail Road and MTA Police saw overtime savings of $21 million and $6 million respectively. New York City Transit accounted for 64% of total overtime spent, due in large to deliberate additional overtime spent to protect service. Absentee coverage accounted for $93 million in 2021 due to on average 1,950 full-time vacant positions during the year.
The percentage of MTA employees who earned overtime at a level less than 10% of their base salary has steadily grown over the last two years from 29,5% in 2018 to 44.9% in 2021.
The reductions follow the MTA’s aggressive efforts to improve overtime management through the implementation of a series of recommendations that came out of a report issued by the law firm Morrison & Foerter in 2019. Enactment of those recommendations is expected to save a billion dollars in overtime between 2020 and 2024, with total overtime spending $217 million less than it was in 2018.
“Even with staffing levels recovering following a hiring freeze caused by the pandemic, our approach will not change,” Camilo said. “The MTA will continue to reduce spending on manageable overtime.”
Implementation of modern timekeeping systems has ensured greater accountability and validation of overtime spending at the MTA. As a result, the agencies are able to effectively track and analyze attendance and approval data. The data is used to create monthly high earner and overtime audits, analyzing top earners as well as randomly selected employees in departments with the most overtime. Department management is responsible for evaluating records for proper authorization, approval, and the accuracy of overtime reporting.