MTA must tame the overtime beast

MTA chairman Pay Foye during an MTA hearing last week.
MTA chairman Pay Foye during an MTA hearing last week. Photo Credit: Boston Harbor Hotel

If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s abundantly clear now.

Overtime at the MTA is out of control, mostly because of a lack of standardized policies, inadequate automated systems and lax record-keeping.

Reining in overtime will require big changes at the MTA — from oversight of overtime and the work rules that balloon costs to the lack of time-keeping technology. MTA officials can’t change any of that without the unions as partners, rather than adversaries. But if Friday’s contentious MTA board meeting is any indication, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Enough is enough. An MTA overtime report released last week illustrates the problems in excruciating detail, underscoring how the agency paid more than $1.3 billion in overtime last year. NYC Transit saw a 16 percent overtime bump year over year, reaching $899.2 million in 2018.

The report comes several months after examples of severe overtime abuses became public, abuses that are now being investigated by federal prosecutors, the Queens district attorney and the MTA inspector general.

Some fixes should be easy, such as finishing the process of getting all NYC Transit employees on a biometric time-clock system. 

Still, the MTA must develop and institute mobile systems and technology to track employees who start their days at job sites that don’t have the clocks. Eliminating paper time sheets and the reliance on supervisors keeping track would help. Unions should embrace appropriate, sensible change.

Then there are the bigger changes that have to come to the nation’s largest public transportation agency, including the elimination of antiquated work rules that drive up overtime. 

Of course, overtime is at times necessary and critically important. MTA employees have faced enormous workloads in the last few years, in part because of programs like the Subway Action Plan.

But rather than find ways to move forward, union representatives and MTA board members who support Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose to go after one another during a raucous board meeting Friday. There was far more bickering than meaningful discussion.

Solving the overtime problem will require them to explore new routes to new answers.

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