Investigation into MTA track workers

December 1, 2009 8:02:04 PM PST
It appears the Inspector General will open up his own investigation in the wake of our report. One area the inspector general may want to look at is supervisors' management of track crews.

Those we monitored spent more time waiting than working.

At 10:40 in the morning, eleven transit workers were more than two-and-a-half hours into their work day and still had yet to work.

Thirty minutes later, they were sitting down, waiting to get the okay to begin their job. Some nap to kill the time. Others drink coffee or chat on the phone. Finally, around 11:30, they were given the orders to start making repairs to the platform -- three-and-a-half hours into the day.

"It's not acceptable to have people being paid when they're not working," State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester said.

Brodsky, who oversees authorities like the MTA, says our investigation reveals a serious waste of resources.

"We don't know yet how wide this behavior exists and what the economics cost are. We will find out this will get dealt with," he said.

For three months, we documented track crews in the Bronx and Manhattan standing around for hours waiting to begin their assignments. While their work day starts at 8:00 a-m, crews we monitored didn't begin work for hours, often waiting for an equipment truck to arrive. Numerous times, we observed the equipment truck arriving around 11 o'clock. The crews would work for about two, maybe three hours and call it quits. "It is inefficient. They don't plan they don't schedule properly," said one track worker who requested anonymity. He says in an eight-hour shift, maybe one or two hours are spent working.

"On a daily basis I see workers who, for example, they do one hour of work and they rest for the other seven hours," he said.

The head of the union representing two thousand track workers says one explanation for what we found is that transit supervisors purposefully keep crews off the tracks until 11 o'clock to prevent train delays.

"They have no control when they enter upon the track or when they exit the track. They're under supervision. They're under instruction," Roger Toussaint said.

And a memo issued in June by the superintendent of rail control instructs all track managers that "flagging" and "inspections" on the tracks can only take place between 11:00 o'clock in the morning and three in the afternoon. But transit says that rule was only in effect for two weeks. What seems clear is that mismanagement has created a lot of idle time, and as our investigation has found that leads to abuse.

From the worker who went from one park to another to read for hours day after day, or the crew that drove the MTA truck 30 miles so they could hang-out at the beach, or the guys killing time lifting weights, and perhaps the worse abuse, the track worker who spends hours tending to his bar and running errands instead of inspecting track. Wasted time, wasted money while the MTA threatens crippling service cuts and huge fare hikes.

"We have MTA management claiming poverty, claiming they don't have enough money to do anything, cut service and increase fares. Meanwhile, we see probably millions of dollars of pay going out the window," City Councilman John Liu.

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