New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that overtime spending remained at the 2020 level despite strategic assignments of overtime to ensure the best possible levels of service on subways and buses. Staffing levels in 2021 had been reduced due to attrition and a hiring freeze brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite significant operational challenges faced by the MTA and its operating agencies, overtime spending was reduced overtime spending in 2021 when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Overtime spending was $217 million less than it was in 2018, with a projection of $1 billion in overtime reductions through 2024.
These reductions were achieved through a variety of initiatives put in place over the last three years, including the adoption of strengthened policies, practices, and procedures and the introduction of new tools designed to help the MTA better manage the strategic use of overtime.
“The fact we were able to hold the line during a period in which staffing shortages required the use of scheduled overtime as a strategic way to maintain the levels of subway and bus service expected by New Yorkers speaks to the effectiveness of systemic controls,” said Chief Administrative Officer Lisette Camilo. “Even with staffing levels recovering following a hiring freeze caused by the pandemic, our approach will not change. The MTA will continue to reduce spending on manageable overtime.”
The Long Island Rail Road and MTA Police saw overtime savings of $21 million and $6 million respectively. New York City Transit accounted for 64% of total overtime spent, due in large part to deliberate additional overtime spent to protect service. Absentee coverage accounted for $93 million in 2021 due to on average 1,950 full-time vacant positions during the year.
The percentage of MTA employees who earned overtime at a level less than 10% of their base salary has steadily grown over the last two years, from 29.5% in 2018 to 44.9% in 2021.
The reductions follow the authority's aggressive efforts to improve overtime management through the implementation of a series of recommendations that came out of a report issued by the law firm Morrison & Foerster in 2019. Enactment of those recommendations is expected to save a billion dollars in overtime between 2020 and 2024, with total overtime spending $217 million less than it was in 2018.
Much of the success in controlling overtime the past few years can be attributed to the innovative actions each agency has implemented. A few examples of these actions are:
- Using new electronic overtime approval forms for real-time oversight of requested hours.
- Assessing compliance with overtime policies as part of mid-year reviews and performance appraisals.
- Implementing weekly overtime activity reports to validate hours and pay as authorized and approved.
- Improving project prioritization to minimize unnecessary overtime.
In 2022, the MTA will maintain its focus on achieving overtime cost reductions identified by the agencies, while continuing to focus on the successful implementation of the Morrison & Foerster timekeeping recommendations.