Last year, 28 Metro employees doubled their salaries with the extra work, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of Metro data. "It's hard to believe that double pay -- or double hours -- is going to be cheaper," said Ronald Ehrenberg, a Cornell University professor of economics and industrial labor relations.
He explained that the economics of offering overtime versus hiring more staff depend on the fixed costs of employment such as health insurance and pension payments. Often, paying time and a half is cheaper than shouldering the extra costs to bring on a new person, he said. But it's a balance.
Metro is on the higher end of guidelines recommended by the Society for Human Resource Management. A policy paper from the Alexandria group recommends that overtime average between 5 percent and 15 percent of the non-overtime hours worked. Less than that means a company has too many workers, while more means it doesn't have enough.
Metro's overtime averages about 13 percent of the non-overtime hours worked, according to the Examiner analysis. But Metro has many extremes. Some workers aren't eligible for overtime or did not work full-time hours, while other employees logged far more than that.
A Green Line station manager, for example, took home more than $74,000 extra by working about 85 percent extra in overtime.
Metro officials have said they had many vacancies in 2010, particularly among bus drivers, train operators and station managers, which they are working to fill. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency also is looking to reduce overtime by improving work scheduling.
Mortimer Downey, a Metro board member and former U.S. deputy transportation secretary, said he has had concerns about employees working to the point of fatigue but notes overtime can be a valuable tool.
"It's very good in some cases if you have schedules to fill and you can do it by lengthening the workday to, say, 10 hours so the person is available for morning and afternoon rush hours," he said. "If it's the most productive way to get the work done or it's essential to meet the schedules, it's the cost of doing business." - Kytja Weir