Runaway overtime spending at CTA

The CTA's Pink Line train passes near the United Center at sunset this month. (Brian Cassella/Tribune)

Working for a public agency with a runaway overtime problem, CTA veteran Jackie Hubbard logged an average of 34 hours of OT on top of each 40-hour week, according to payroll records.

"Some people at CTA are picky about the type of work they do and the hours they work," said Hubbard, a rail service supervisor. "Not me. Overtime is something I sought, and I took any piece of work available."

It paid off — and will keep paying off for Hubbard into the future. Not only did she receive more than $436,000 in overtime pay since 2005, but her pension checks will balloon by more than $46,000 each year because of a unique perk long ago negotiated into CTA contracts.

At the CTA, overtime is included in calculations used to determine pensions.

Hubbard's $66,231 annual base salary was supplemented by $84,566 in overtime pay in 2010, according to CTA payroll records obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act. Those were the biggest contributors to paychecks totaling $153,280 and made Hubbard the top wage-earner for the year among unionized CTA employees, the records show.

Hubbard, a 26-year CTA employee, stands to receive an annual pension of $87,310 instead of a pension totaling $40,459 resulting solely from her base salary, CTA records show.

The agency estimates that such added pension payments to all union workers cost $9 million a year and about $90 million over the life of the benefits.

Among all the public agencies in Illinois, only at the CTA can employees boost their pensions with overtime — a practice that has been in place since at least 1965, according to CTA officials.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, the one agency that uses overtime to calculate pensions also has struggled to contain its overtime costs.

Exactly how much the CTA pays out in overtime has not been completely clear.

The agency has put its 2010 overtime costs at $19.8 million.

A Tribune analysis, however, found more than $29 million in overtime.

The Tribune investigation found that although the CTA pays 11/2 times the regular hourly wage to union employees who work more than 40 hours per week, it counts only part of the additional payment — the "half" in time and a half — as overtime for some workers.

So a bus driver or train operator who works eight overtime hours receives 12 additional hours of pay, but only four of those hours are considered overtime — or "premium pay" as the CTA calls it.

The CTA rejects the idea that this accounting method lacks transparency. Officials said the extra pay for overtime was anticipated in the agency's operations budget to account for the difference between a regular eight-hour shift and the number of work hours needed to complete bus and train runs.

"It is not extra money we are burdened with, because it is operationally built into the system," CTA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said. "Does it cost us money? Yes. But it is budgeted for."

'Mandatory overtime'

Overtime excesses are part of the reason the transit agency is mired deep in red ink, CTA officials said. Labor costs account for about 70 percent of operations. Officials are trying to negotiate contract concessions from labor unions while also warning riders about possible fare hikes and service cuts later this year.

CTA President Forrest Claypool, who took over last May, accepted responsibility for only part of the high overtime costs. He attributed the majority to previous administrations that approved work rules preventing managers from increasing efficiency.