Subway station agents are still working high levels of overtime--and getting paid time-and-half for it--more than a month after transit officials said excess overtime would be reduced.
Officials at the Transport Workers Union first raised the issue in May, charging that the MTA had increased the need for overtime by 300 percent. They said the authority had hastily laid off station agents without reckoning how much manpower it would need. MTA officials countered that the problem was temporary, and would be "alleviated" when a new work schedule went into effect May 30.
An MTA spokeswoman, in an email Thursday, acknowledged that "overtime levels are running high," though she said they have come down since May.
"Adjustments will continue to be made going forward, to being down the level of overtime as much as possible," the spokeswoman, Deirdre Parker, said.
Two station agents told WNYC that the availability of overtime hadn't changed much over the past month, while one said it may have declined slightly. They said they have continued to hear calls offering employees overtime at least twice a week over the citywide intercom system.
One agent, Joseph Pollard, works an overnight shift from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. in Lower Manhattan. He said he hears those announcements every shift he works.
"It basically didn't change," he said.
An agent with 29 years of experience, Keith Assing, says it doesn't make sense to lay off one worker and then end up paying other workers more to fill in. But he says he's taken advantage of the overtime offers and tends to work three extra shifts a week.
"It's beneficial to those who want to work overtime but at the same time it's not fair for someone to lose a job and other people benefit," Assing said. "It doesn't seem right."
The controversy comes in the middle of the MTA's budget crisis. The authority is still searching for ways to save hundreds of millions of dollars this year despite the service cuts that went into effect June 27. MTA Chairman Jay Walder has targeted overtime practices as one of the key ways to keep the agency's budget balanced.
The union has been battling one of the MTA's other cost-cutting moves: closing or reducing staffing at about 80 station booths and laying off about 475 agents. Currently, there are about 700 booths and 3,000 agents throughout the system. A court ordered the MTA to keep about 80 of those booths open and fully staffed at least until it held a public hearing. In mid-May, the MTA decided to close about 40 booths before that order fully took effect and laid off 260 agents. At the time, however, the MTA said it was retaining enough agents to staff all the booths that it was required to keep open.
But employees say that's not been the case. Michelle Dennis, a station agent who works in the Bronx, is one of those who will likely be laid off soon. (Public hearings on closing the other 40 booths will take place next week.) She says she worked about 70 hours a week in May and June in order to put some money in the bank. Her regular pay is about $25 an hour; anything over 40 hours earns $37.50.
"We don't have enough people to cover these booths," Dennis said.
She said the need for overtime seems to have declined somewhat over the past month, but that the labor shortage remains.
"There are times when we are stuck, that we can't even go home, that they got to scramble for them and get a relief for us," she said. "Sometimes we are stuck in there for two hours, maybe better."