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MTA board member wants independent probe of overtime

MTA Board Member Lawrence Schwartz, one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's representatives on the board, said the recent investigations ordered by chairman Patrick don't go far enough to address "why there are constant overtime, payroll and pension abuses at the MTA."

A westbound bi-level Long Island Rail Road commuter

A westbound bi-level Long Island Rail Road commuter train pulled by diesel locomotives enters the Oakdale LIRR station on Aug. 5, 2015. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Five Long Island Rail Road employees face disciplinary sanctions for "overtime abuse" in recent months, MTA chairman Patrick Foye said.

Ahead of a specially convened Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting Friday about overtime, Foye said the five workers either already have been disciplined or will be sanctioned for overtime abuses. Foye said the sanctions, which he would not specify, have resulted in two of the workers deciding to "accelerate" their retirements.

As the meeting kicked off at 4 p.m., MTA Board Member Lawrence Schwartz, who requested it, opened by calling on the agency to hire a former prosecutor to independently investigate overtime and pension abuses at the MTA. 

Schwartz, one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's representatives on the board, said the recent investigations ordered by Foye don't go far enough to address "why there are constant overtime, payroll and pension abuses at the MTA."

According to a report from the Empire Center for Public Policy, a Long Island Rail Road employee made more than $300,000 in overtime in 2018. That employee since has retired, the MTA said.

Schwartz's call Friday to hire an independent investigator was met with guffaws by union representatives in the audience. The MTA's unions have criticized the agency for spending millions on outside consultants.

Foye also announced that the MTA will no longer have its police officers monitor overtime practices among fellow MTA workers. He said MTA Police personnel "have been reassigned to other work." Foye explained that their involvement was meant to be temporary while the MTA inspector general moved offices.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 president Tony Utano said Foye called him Thursday night to inform him of the plan to pull MTA Police from the assignment..

“It's a good development, but I’m still furious that this happened at all,” Utano said before the meeting. “The chairman had police officers standing watch over workers like prison guards over inmates. He treated his employees like convicted criminals.”

Foye, in response to the excessive overtime controversy, called last week for an internal investigation, and asked MTA inspector general Barry Kluger to conduct his own probe.

In addition, however, the MTA began “policing” overtime with its police force. MTA Police visited LIRR facilities this week — checking employee cards and observing the use of biometric finger touch identification systems.

The review of time and attendance procedures among MTA workers was part of a larger investigation into high overtime rates Foye ordered after the Empire Center report was released last month. The MTA’s use of its police department to help carry out that review angered union officials, including LIRR union boss Anthony Simon, who called the practice “insulting and irresponsible.”

According to the report by the Empire Center, a nonprofit based in Albany, the authority's top earner in 2018, LIRR chief measurement officer Thomas Caputo, made $344,147 in overtime last year on top of his base salary of $117,499. Of the 10 highest-paid employees at the MTA last year, six worked for the LIRR.

The MTA said a limited number of police officers had been spending about 30 minutes of their shifts monitoring clocking-in and clocking-out procedures, but otherwise were on patrol, monitoring their radios, and able to quickly respond to emergencies.

The authority’s handling of the controversy has deepened a growing rift between MTA management and LIRR unions, who have complained in recent months about laborers being shown little respect or appreciation even as they work hard to reverse persistent service problems throughout the LIRR.

There was talk of some workers planning to refuse to work overtime this weekend, but according to Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 589, which represents LIRR electricians, it doesn't seem to be across all organizations.

Sanchez said he was made aware of the organized overtime refusal by some workers, but directed his members not to participate.

"What is going on is not right," Sanchez said. "My members have been approached because other organizations are not happy and decided to take a course of action that does not affect us. I've told my members not to be part of it."

The last major clash between the railroad’s labor force and MTA management brought the nation’s largest commuter railroad to the brink of a shutdown in 2014. Three days before workers vowed to go on strike, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo brokered a deal to keep the railroad running.

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