NJ Transit trains not on time because workers declining overtime
While thousand of BTS fans had a smooth ride to MetLife Stadium for their concerts in May, it was the last straw for the NJ Transit engineers union, whose workers are now creating some commuter headaches by declining overtime assignments.
The work-to-rule action led to 44 NJ Transit trains being canceled on Saturday and Sunday due to lack of "engineer availability."
In a letter to member dated May 19, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers General Chairman Jim Brown wrote that NJ Transit managers approached certain engineers and offered "an extra arbitrary payment for working the concert event train" in violation of their contract with NJ Transit.
NJ Transit engineers have the option to accept extra work on their two days off. The agency credited the engineers working extra shifts during the projects at New York Penn Station for making the so-called "Summer of Hell" service changes go smoothly in 2017 and 2018.
"They were calling individual members and offering to pay them extra money to basically come out on their relief days to supply service for the BTS concert," Brown told New Jersey 101.5. He said that he asked NJ Transit to draw up a "side letter" to cover the request, as had been done many time in the past, but they refused to do it this time.
"That's a blatant violation of the contract and I won't stand for it," Brown said.
The two BTS concerts played to sold-out audiences on May 18 and 19 and was NJ Transit's first major event since Wrestlemania in April, when passengers were left standing in the rain waiting for buses and trains.
NJ Transit said Wrestlemania went longer than the agreed upon end time and because of federal work rules only half the number of trains could transport passengers back to Secaucus Junction.
In a letter posted on May 31, Brown wrote that NJ Transit had not responded to his concerns and he personally would not work relief days or take other assignments.
Brown said NJ Transit keeps putting off meetings with him.
"I notified the members what was going on and the members individually chose to stop working their relief days. They were doing extra and they don't want to do it anymore," Brown told Townsquare Media.
Brown admits that while the membership makes "phenomenal money," they're working the equivalent of two jobs seven days a week.
"They go out at midnight, work 8 or 10 hours, rest and come out again and they're getting tired and they don't see anything in return," Brown said.
Brown said that the six new classes of engineers NJ Transit has touted will not solve any staffing problems for at least three years.
"Is 100 engineers going to help? Absolutely. But not as much as everyone thinks," he said.
The first class graduated in May with 12 engineers. Another six classes will complete the 20-month course by the end of the year.
Brown said that as new engineers are joining the roster of engineers they're losing just as many.
"If they don't increase the hourly wage, which I've been telling them to do, they're going to lose more engineers to the LIRR because they're hiring very soon," Brown said.
Last year, New Jersey 101.5 reported that NJ Transit engineers can make as much as $200,000 a year with overtime. The median pay for engineers is $122,000 a year.
Compared to LIRR, Metro North and Amtrak, Brown said NJ Transit engineers are the "lowest paid in the region by far. I'm talking $8-$10 an hour less. That's a lot of money. They have to be more competitive, they know this and they refuse to do anything about it.
The new engineers also represent a loss in overtime for his membership because he believes NJ Transit will "flood the extra list" eventually.
NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder issued a statement in response to Brown's comments.
"While working on relief days is not a contractual obligation, we are always appreciative of our engineers who go above and beyond the call of duty to fill open shifts as we diligently address the current engineer shortage. NJ Transit adheres to the contract, and in that Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is a formal process in place to resolve disputes.
"In order to build ranks of engineers to better serve riders, NJ TRANSIT has increased the number of engineer training classes to a record-setting six classes running concurrently. There are four engineer classes set to graduate in 2019. Over the past year, we’ve hired more than 100 locomotive engineer trainees."
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