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Hundreds of Metro workers take home at least $40k in OT

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Police officer who makes an extra $123k rakes in the most

 

More than 300 Metro employees boosted their paychecks by $40,000 or more working overtime last year, with four raking in more than $100,000 extra.

One Metro police officer earning $69,559 in salary was able to take home just over $201,000 last year by working regular overtime and doubletime, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of data received from the transit agency in a public records request. The patrol officer logged 4,329 hours in 2010, the equivalent of working nearly 12 hours every day of the year, including holidays and weekends.

"That is absolutely crazy," said Justin Keating, a lawyer who represents the officers union. "What are they doing wrong there that they had people working that many hours?"

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the police officer works nights but spent a lot of time testifying in court during the day in 2010. "Whether an officer spends two minutes or two hours in court, he's guaranteed three hours' pay," Stessel said.

Such large payouts highlight how the agency is spending money. Metro ran through its overtime budget about halfway through the last fiscal year. The long hours also raise the question of how long employees can work without becoming dangerously fatigued.

Of the 25 workers logging the most hours, nine were train operators and one was a bus operator. Others included a rail mechanic, two construction inspectors and two maintenance supervisors -- all of whose work ensures the system operates safely. Metro did not release the workers' names.

One train operator worked nearly twice as many hours as the average worker, logging 3,781 hours, which would have kept the operator working 14.5 hours every weekday of the year without any vacation.

Metro workers have recounted examples of drivers downing energy drinks to stay awake or sleeping on agency couches rather than heading home between shifts.

Stessel said train operators are required to have at least eight hours off every 24 hours. "What's important is to ensure that people are getting the necessary rest between shifts and working safely," he wrote in an e-mail. "After safety, we have to manage costs as effectively as possible, and we are working to reduce OT expense this year where it makes sense to do so."

Although Metro busted its overtime budget, Stessel noted the overall budget finished the fiscal year ahead, a sign of "effective fiscal management."

And he said most employees aren't working such long hours. "Extraordinary cases are rare. Only 2 percent of all Metro employees averaged more than 60 hours/week over the course of 2010 -- a year with an unusually high vacancy rate."

Metro's top four overtime earners in 2010
The following Metro workers earned more than $100,000 just in overtime:
1. Police officer: 4,329 hours, $123,296 extra
2. Construction inspector: 3,711 hours, $116,850 extra
3. Construction inspector: 3,466 hours, $103,516 extra
4. Maintenance supervisor: 3,609 hours, $101,366 extra
The numbers
• 337 workers earned more than $40,000 extra in overtime
• Metro workers who worked at least some overtime took home an average of $11,808 in overtime wages on top of a $56,222 average salary.

Not all of Metro's 10,000-plus workers are eligible for overtime or choose to work extra hours. About 82 percent worked some overtime in 2010. Of those 8,254 employees, the average worker earned $11,808 on top of their $56,222 average salaries.

Metro's largest union, representing nearly all its bus and train operators, did not return multiple calls.

The Examiner reported in May that some construction inspectors and track supervisors logged more than 40 hours of overtime a week, working 16 hours every day for weeks in the first part of 2011. A Metro board member called that report an "eye-opener," and officials questioned Metro on the need for such long extra hours.

Metro's management said it would explain this fall how it is fighting fatigue. In the meantime, Stessel said, the agency is looking at ways to further reduce the use of overtime through improved scheduling of work and filling vacancies.

But the focus was primarily on track maintenance as the agency takes on a massive rehabilitation of its 35-year-old rail system, entailing long hours for many workers.

Now an independent watchdog group, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, is investigating worker fatigue issues in all safety-sensitive jobs by interviewing workers and reviewing documents, said Chairman Matt Bassett.

"It's important in an industry like rail transit to get a sense of what's happening, especially when there are not federal regulations on it," he said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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