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Inspector General confirms track worker idleness

December 2, 2009 7:17:16 PM PST
The report by the MTA Inspector General confirms what our undercover investigation revealed last November about systemic mismanagement of track workers. We found so much idle time that track inspectors would routinely leave their work stations to spend hours reading in the park, picking up groceries to take back home, lifting weights to pass away the time, driving their truck to meet friends at the beach, or even abandoning the workplace to go tend bar.

That's because while track workers clock in at 8:00 a.m., they're kept off the tracks until the morning rush hour ends to prevent subway delays. Add to that, workers must also be off the tracks by the start of the afternoon rush. In other words, there's only a four-hour work window during their 8-hour day.

The Inspector General report says we exposed a cost in lost time that "exceeds $10-million dollars" a year.

"No company would have a system that limits their workers to three hour days and the MTA shouldn't have a system like that either," said John Liu.

Councilman John Liu says when he begins work as the city's Comptroller the kind of waste we uncovered at the MTA will be a top priority.

"NYC Transit gets a huge subsidy from NYC taxpayers and as Comptroller I would be looking at auditing and examining the agency as it relates to how they are spending our money," said Liu.

"Our key finding and recommendation in that area is that management must work with labor, as is done in other areas of the MTA, to try to get more weekend work on these elevated tracks," said Barry Kluger, the MTA Inspector General.

On the weekends, there are fewer trains allowing workers more access to inspect and fix the tracks. One year after Eyewitness News exposed the widespread idleness, the switch to more weekend work still hasn't happened. The I.G. report states "thus far NYC Transit has not employed that strategy."

''NYC Transit has accepted our findings and recommendations and will be submitting a work plan to the union to negotiate for more weekend work to increase productivity," Kluger explained.

Our investigation also uncovered that even after the morning rush hour ended, large numbers of repairmen would wait around unable to begin work because trucks failed to deliver their equipment in time. We saw this again and again, so did the inspector general.

"There could be additional delays of half an hour, an hour and, in some instances, up to two hours," Kluger said.

The Transit Authority says it will submit a new work plan to the union this month that will assign more track workers on weekend shifts. In addition, Transit has added five control center dispatchers to better coordinate the delivery of the equipment to the track crews.

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TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint issued a statement on the Inspector General's report on track work:

"The Inspector General's report released today fails to grasp the real challenges particular to track work or to understand elements of our Collective Bargaining Agreement. It also appears to be ignorant of the record involving the issues raised in the report. Shockingly, it avoids any discussion of hard data regarding increased track worker productivity.

"Apart from the deficiencies in the report's content, it is striking that Local 100 had to learn of its release from news reports rather than from the MTA. This is a return to the practices of an era that no one concerned with healthy labor relations would want to revisit. It is another sign of the MTA's lack of accountability and its lack of respect toward its own workforce. When that happens, riders beware - you're next.

"Transit workers employed in the Maintenance of Way (MOW) department work amid potentially catastrophic hazards, including live third rails, moving trains, darkened tunnels and elevated tracks. In combination, these conditions have made working on the tracks among the most dangerous jobs in New York City, as demonstrated by the blood spilt on the tracks.

"The nature of this work involves assembling at central points, traveling, tooling up and conducting repairs and new construction on or adjacent to tracks with traffic, a condition that always requires setting up flagging protection. When work is complete, the complicated set-up process is then reversed. And this is what transpires with routine work. It does not include track workers' frequent responses to emergency conditions, to passenger requests involving the track bed or other support functions they routinely provide.

"Curiously, the report argues BOTH for moving more track work to weekends to minimize delays during the week, and for workers to spend more time on the tracks on weekdays, which interferes with service. Go figure!! The only logic that can be gleaned from this: No matter what, the workers are to blame. Make them pay.

"The IG report is prejudiced and largely lacks a sense of reality. The need to properly set-up and close-down worksites is transformed by ignorance into time wasted. The result is a parody of time-motion study and tells nothing of the actual trends in productivity.

"One hopes that no one would accuse firefighters of being unproductive because of the time they spend not holding a fire hose. Yet, that is precisely the logic of the report when it comes to track workers: Time not spent heaving rail is wasted, or worse. It seems that when it comes to transit workers, different standards apply; standards that have little to do with the facts and a lot to do with preconceived notions.

"Track worker productivity can best be measured by track footage repaired or replaced on a per capita basis, reduction in track fires, etc. Looking at these measures historically would be instructive - it would show the tremendous gains in productivity over the years. But the IG report fails to present actual available data on track worker productivity at NYCT. Could it be that this data does not support the report's contention?

"As for the MTA IG's inclination to shrug off our Collective Bargaining Agreement, that is irresponsible and wishful thinking. This Agreement is the starting point for protecting the interests and lives of track workers, who risk everything every day to keep the system running. Ignoring it in a world of make-believe is easy; in the real world, it is not going away. We will see to that."

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/jphoffer.

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