MBTA Pays $82M in Employee Overtime as Riders Stay Home

With ridership at just 8 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has been paying some of its workers massive overtime. The MBTA is projecting a budget gap of up to $79 million this fiscal year.

(TNS) — Riders may have disappeared amid the pandemic, but Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority employees are still riding overtime that added up to $82 million last year — on par with prepandemic spending — that shows no signs of slowing down.

Dozens of employees are on track to pad their salaries with six-figure payouts again in 2021, even as the cash-strapped agency rolls out deep service cuts. Thirty-five T workers earned more than $100,000 in overtime in 2020, with 50 employees doubling and two nearly tripling their base pay thanks to overtime accrued.

Charlie Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute said the out-of-control overtime shows, "a lack of basic respect for taxpayers," in an agency that has been plagued by numerous spending scandals and is at the mercy of powerful unions.

The MBTA employee with the highest overtime total — a wireman foreman — raked in $310,859, which included $196,716 in overtime on top of a base pay of $114,143. An electrical inspector came in second, hauling in $310,198, which included $191,451 in overtime on top of his salary of $118,747. Ninety-three T employees earned more than Gov. Charlie Baker through combined salary and overtime pay.

A Herald review of the payroll data so far in 2021 shows significant sums of overtime still being paid to those same top earners from 2021.

Overtime spending by the T peaked at $96.2 million in 2019 with the Red Line derailment, service interruptions and necessary repairs. The total 2020 overtime figure of $81.4 million is on par with the 2018 figure of $81.9 million.

Ridership has plummeted to 8% of pre-pandemic levels, say T officials who are projecting a budget gap of $54 million to $79 million for the current fiscal year and $577 million to $652 million in the next one, which starts in July. But transportation advocate Christopher Dempsey of Transportation for Massachusetts called the budget woes a "manufactured crisis."

The MBTA is in line to receive $1.1 billion in total federal stimulus funds so far — money it isn't factored in to plug the budget hole.

"They are saving it for a future rainy day. We say this is the rainy day," Dempsey said.

To balance its budget, the T last year issued $1.6 million in buyouts and in December ordered furloughs for hundreds of its union members, which is expected to save the T $2.5 million.

MBTA GM Steve Poftak meanwhile took a $20,800 bonus on top of his $324,522 salary, according to payroll records. The bonus is tied to Poftak's 2019 performance per his contract. He has deferred acceptance of his 2020 bonus, according to a spokesman.

The T wouldn't say on Sunday how much it plans to save with the temporary service cuts.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the Herald overtime costs were necessary to keep up operations in an unprecedented year.

The Carmen's union local 589, which represents the bus and train operators, defended the overtime collected by, "brave workers stepping up to take extra shifts amid a life-threatening pandemic."

Hundreds of employees contracted the virus or had to take leave after being exposed to the virus, requiring others to step in. Transit police, who are included in the MBTA payroll, are understaffed and dispensed resources at "large demonstrations last year," Pesaturo said.

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