MTA plans to cut 1,900 jobs in 2020, but it’s anyone’s guess as to who’ll get the ax

(Photo by Mark Hallum)

The MTA’s Finance Committee offered its financial plan Wednesday for the 2020 budget and found that the agency will need to cut over 1,800 jobs across all of the bureaus it manages.

However, answers as to which positions and whether or not this is part of the 2,700 total cuts announced in July is currently unknown, along with figures projecting fiscal savings.

According to one source, the MTA’s board had not even been briefed on the layoffs ahead of Wednesday’s monthly meeting which the authority countered as false.

“We are pleased to see that the state budget includes higher than expected operating aid projections, but even as we look to consider and improve this updated operating budget, the MTA must remain laser focused on transformation,” MTA Chair and CEO Patrick Foye said during the monthly meeting. “Our financial constraints are still very real and we remain laser focused on achieving $1.6 billion in savings the agency needs which is critical to its financial health.”

An updated budget projection, as of Wednesday morning, shows that the MTA will be in the black throughout 2022; a stark contrast to the doom and gloom of late 2018 when the deficit was expected to reach $634 million by 2022.

The 2,700 layoffs announced over the summer as part of the Transformation Plan aimed mostly at white collar positions, and minimal union jobs.

While Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said 750 employees have already been attrited out of the agency and about 2,000 will need to be transitioned as well by 2021.

Foran operating costs have increased by $91 million since a new contract was struck with the Transit Workers Union Local 100. Despite this, the estimates for the MTA’s financial standing will be “favorable” by $508 million.

Foran stressed that if the MTA does not reach the goal of $1.6 billion in transformation savings, the authority could face a massive deficits all over again.

John Samuelsen, a board member who represents the TWU, blasted the authority for a multitude of issues concerning employee treatment; not just the layoffs, but the loss of paternity leave for one employee whose child was stillborn.

Provoking objections from other board members, Samuelsen took aim at moving funds collected through fares and putting it toward the $51 billion five-year capital plan instead of toward its operational overhead.

“One observation that I’m going to continue to make is the craziness of taking [$68 million] out of the farebox and placing it into the capital plan, when the capital plan is flush with cash… Simultaneously engaging in what amounts to service reductions and reductions in the operational workforce,” Samuelsen said. “If there are reductions in headcount, that will negatively impact almost immediately your overtime budget or your ability to keep the system in a state of good repair.”

Samuelsen said the approach the MTA was taking with these financial actions would only move the system back to where it was two years ago in a state of crisis and deferred maintenance.

“We can’t cut service and then say you’re going to control overtime and not have a downward spiral into where we were two years ago,” Samuelsen said. 

This financial plan presumes that congestion pricing goes into effect as expected, which has suddenly been cast into doubt by the need for approval from the federal government.

According to MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber, the agency has a big year ahead of it with up to $7 billion scheduled to be spent in 2020 on improvements, the highest amount in the authority’s history.

The board approved the financial plan in a vote which green-lights the 2,700 layoffs – which Foye said will be mostly through attrition – as well as fare increase in the future. The 1,800 reduction will start in the second quarter of 2020 and take six months to identify identify which positions to eliminate.

The “transformation scope” requires the MTA to close the $1.6 billion gap by the fourth quarter of 2023, Chief Transformation Officer Andrew McCord said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep engaged staff,” McCord said.

Correction: an earlier version of this story gave readers a breakdown of which departments and roles could see layoffs. It has been brought to our attention that the data represents a different category of budget information, we regret any error in our reporting.