This story was originally published on May 9, 2019 by Jose Martinez at THE CITY

A crackdown on booming MTA overtime costs is coming — and carrying a whiff of labor unrest from transit workers.

“The company brought this problem upon themselves and now they’re trying to blame the workers,” John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, told THE CITY on Thursday. “If they don’t want us to work overtime, then hire a few thousand [more] workers and the overtime will disappear.”

An emergency MTA board meeting is set for Friday afternoon to discuss overtime costs that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called “unacceptable.”

“The governor has made it clear that the MTA’s overtime costs are unacceptable and they have to do a better job reining in all of their spending, which has led to the dire financial situation,” said Patrick Muncie, a spokesperson for Cuomo.

An April report from the Empire Center for Public Policy highlighted a 16% surge last year in overtime costs at the MTA — where the $418 million payroll cost in 2018 was $82 million more than what the authority expects to take in from the last fare and toll increases.

Overtime pay at the Long Island Rail Road last year topped out at $224.6 million — a 30% increase from the previous year — while at New York City Transit, the overtime bill hit $119 million.

“It is the single-biggest cost to the MTA,” said Ken Girardin, an analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy. “Sixty cents of every dollar the MTA spends are on personnel costs.”

‘Doling Out the Medicine’

Samuelsen, who also sits on the MTA board, said overtime is essential to maintaining the sprawling transit system.

“This system cannot be in a state of good repair without overtime,” he said. “They like doling out the medicine, but they don’t like it when it hits the fan.”

He added that the union was prepared to play hardball with the MTA during ongoing labor talks for a new contract. In 2014, the governor played a key role in breaking an impasse in contract talks between the MTA and TWU Local 100, and has since counted on the union as an ally.

Samuelsen said the relationship has been “productive.”

“At the end of the day, he has his interests and we’re representing New York City Transit workers,” he said. “There is always a chance a political relationship could go down the toilet.”

But with the MTA expected to face a $1 billion operating budget shortfall by 2022, the agency is facing pressure to curb its labor costs.

“I’m a supporter of organized labor — I’ve seen its value and the value of collective bargaining,” said Neal Zuckerman, an MTA board member. “But we have a financial imbalance and we have to find some way to make it work… Payroll is going up faster than fares.”

© 2019 THE CITY

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York


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