MTA ‘shifting priorities’ put overtime reforms ‘at risk’

The MTA’s antiquated overtime system continues to work OT for cash-grab scams as the agency’s $31 million effort to curtail potential payroll pilfering is “at-risk,” according to the agency’s Inspector General.

The multi-million effort to prevent overtime abuse is failing as officials slow-roll the integration of modern timekeeping into the authority’s payroll systems, the IG’s latest quarterly review of the program’s progress stated.

Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny’s office said “shifts in organizational priorities” have left the multi-year effort in limbo — even as MTA employees rack up indictments for stealing time under a decades-old OT paper-dependent “honor system.”

The challenge is “surmountable,” the IG said in the report, if the MTA’s new leadership under Gov. Kathy Hochul cares to fix it: “If management plans to abandon the effort this far into the project, then it should be transparent about that decision,” the report said.

Pokorny’s office has been keeping tabs on the MTA’s overtime reforms since 2019, after The Post exposed allegations of overtime abuse following a series of exposés on LIRR workers pulling in huge paychecks.

general view of a Long Island Railroad train or LIRR train as seen at Penn Station in New York, NY on August 6, 2020.
Carolyn Pokorny’s office has been keeping tabs on the MTA’s overtime reforms since 2019.
Christopher Sadowski

Many of the MTA’s supervisors “relied entirely on the honesty of employees” in doling out OT — creating an “honor system” rife with opportunities for fraud, Pokorny has said.

That unsupervised collection of OT wages has also resulted multiple prosecutions — including of the MTA’s 2018 “Overtime King” Thomas Caputo, an LIRR employee who the feds said conspired with coworkers to land jobs on mega-projects where they could get away with sleeping or playing hooky out of view of LIRR management.

The MTA, under previous Chairman Pat Foye, hired Morrison & Foerster LLP in 2019 to develop a plan for to prevent and catch fraud in the future. The firm urged officials to scrap paper-based OT accounting for “biometric” clocks that require workers to swipe in and out of work, and scan their fingerprints when they do so.

Janno Lieber
Gov. Kathy Hochul stated that she will nominate Janno Lieber for a full term.
Paul Martinka

According to the IG, transit leaders have waived fingerprint requirements since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. Meanwhile, Kronos participation declined in the third quarter of 2021 compared to earlier in the year — something officials only investigated after the IG’s office brought it to their attention, the report said.

The IG explained that Kronos payroll and payroll will not be fully integrated or digitized until then, so management may lack the necessary tools to catch and verify OT wage cheaters and ensure they are paid correctly.

“The integration is a vital component of the MTA’s overtime reforms, which my Office has demonstrated is critically needed through exposing bad actors and emphasizing the need to decrease wasteful, unverifiable overtime across the MTA,” Pokorny said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul
The challenge is “surmountable” if the MTA’s new leadership under Gov. Kathy Hochul is determined to solve it.
William Miller

The report also blamed delays on “turnover in project leads,” alluding to the departure of Chief Operating Officer and overtime reform task force head Mario Peloquin in March.

Foye was replaced by Janno Lieber, MTA construction czar. Andrew Cuomo succeeded Foye in July as MTA construction czar Janno Lieber. Hochul stated that she will nominate Lieber for a full term. Pokorny has also been appointed by Cuomo.

MTA stated that OT spending fell since 2018.

“The MTA continues to address how best to achieve full integration of the Kronos payroll system,” spokesman mike Cortez said in a statement. “Measures already implemented have resulted in annual overtime expenditures dropping by hundreds of millions of dollars and we are committed to additional material reductions in overtime costs.”

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