MTA workers on the job?

December 1, 2009 8:02:42 PM PST
He's supposed to be working, instead a transit track inspector is headed home after a little grocery shopping. Other transit employees caught on tape should be working too, instead they're using the MTA dump truck to drive 30 miles to a beach on Long Island to hang out, chat and catch an ocean breeze.

Other transit workers have so much free time during their 8-houir shift, they set up an outdoor gym where they can exercise at all hours of the work day.

"How many hours do you actually work on the track in an 8 hour shift?" I asked a track worker, who asked not to be identified.

"Typically it's about 1 hour, an-hour-and-a-half of actual work," he responded.

Fed up with what he calls a culture of waste and abuse at a time when the MTA threatens record fare hikes, this worker said the problem starts high up.

"The supervisors are the problem. The supervisors allow this type of behavior. There is a system that allows the workers to slip out to go an do whatever they want," he said.

That's why we've chosen not to identify "individual workers. "

Instead look at this pattern: One track worker signs in just before 8:00 a.m. A minute later, he leaves and ends up at a restaurant, where he spends the next hour having a leisurely breakfast. Then, it's over to a nearby park, where he reads for nearly 90 minutes -- first the newspaper, and then onto a book. He arrives back to work around 10:30. Sometime between 11:30 and noon, he and the rest of the track crew finally begin their work assignment, which takes about 90 minutes to inspect the track. Then, he's off again, this time to another park where he spends the rest of the afternoon reading his novel. Not bad at $25-to-$30 dollars an hour, plus full benefits.

"They're not to blame. The people to blame are management. Supervisors are supposed to keep control over this. They are supposed to run the operation and set the standards," our tracker worker said.

Another track worker uses his free time to run a business on the side. Several times, we watched as he slipped out of work to head to his bar about five miles away. Videotape shows him entering the bar an hour after his work day began. He stayed for about 30 minutes before heading back to his real job at the subway. By early afternoon, he's back at his bar.

On another day, he spent just 15 minutes inspecting the tracks before heading off to run his bar. That same afternoon, he ran some errands, picking up cases of liquor to stock up on his inventory.

On yet another day, he was at the bar by early afternoon talking for a couple of hours before he headed back to work to clock out at the end of his shift.

"Seems like the problem starts at the top because the workers are not given enough work," I said to our tracker worker.

"That's right. They're not given enough work. They can do as they please. There's no accountability. There' s no discipline. Technically you work at a full time job and your doing part time work," he responded.

We tried to get New York City transit to respond to our investigation on camera, giving them three days to respond. They declined and instead released a statement calling our findings disturbing, adding that they've launched their own investigation. The agency says if our allegations prove to be true, disciplinary action will be taken with possible dismissal of workers and even criminal prosecution.

The head of the transport workers union says there's a reason why we found so many workers killing time. It's because, he says, they're not allowed on the tracks during rush hours and their bosses want them to lay low.

"Transit workers are discouraged from assembling on the station platform or in the entrances to station out of concern that the public can easily misunderstand that they're just hanging out or lounging," TWU President Roger Toussaint said.

Hanging out in parks, lounging at the bar, passing time lifting weights while those running the railroad threaten fare hikes.

"If there's only two hours of work for the track workers to do, can't we do with fewer track workers?" I asked Toussaint.

"I don't think so. I actually think it is very untypical what you describe. Two hours of work, very untypical," he said.

Part two of our investigation can be seen Friday on Eyewitness News at 6. It reveals just how "typical" the two-hour work-day is among track crews we monitored.