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MTA Signal Inspectors Cleared by Arbitrator

Published: April 22, 2013

Publication: The Chief

By Sarah Dorsey

Seven signal inspectors who pleaded guilty in August to faking subway inspections returned to work last week after an arbitrator found they were just following orders, their lawyer said.

Although they were originally charged with felonies, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Signal Maintainers in the end got misdemeanor raps for falsifying records, their attorney Arthur Schwartz said. Arbitrator Elliott Shriftman’s findings have not yet been released.

33 Phantom Inspections

Last year, the employees admitted to logging 33 inspections they never performed, at the behest of a supervisor, who along with a second supervisor was also arrested.

Mr. Schwartz said the workers were under pressure from above to complete far more inspections than they could.

“These are the guys at the bottom of the system. They didn’t create this mess. They were just the ones who had been delegated, essentially, to carry it out,” he said.

Originally, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the MTA Inspector General, who worked together on the indictments, charged that the workers kept barcodes that normally go on track equipment in a locker so they could check off the inspections without doing them.

Mr. Schwartz said that in the end, the prosecution backed off from those allegations, in part because it was impossible to tell who’d entered the false information. Some supervisors, he said, had been caught altering the computer records to show inspections had been done when the employees were out of town. He said the workers did go out into the field to inspect the signals, but simply couldn’t complete all the work heaped on them.

‘Quick Way of Doing It’

“They’d have to do a circuit: 50 feet, 100 feet, 200 feet, 400 feet, and they’d only do two of them. Or they’d watch the train go by, see that the signal was working and click if off,” Mr. Schwartz said. “The supervisor would say that was a quick way of doing it.”

“[Sometimes] they’d say, ‘Listen, I didn’t get to these 10,’ and the supervisor would say, ‘Yes, you did.’’’

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, “We will await the arbitrator’s final decision before commenting on what we consider to be an extremely serious issue.”

Senior MTA officials were more forthcoming, however, in a report issued when the indictments were made in 2010.

‘Undue Pressure’ on Them?

“Based on internal interviews conducted, the [task force] determined that the most probable underlying reason for falsifications was the perception held by supervisors and hourly employees that management was exerting undue pressure on them to increase productivity,” read the report by a group of high-level managers, including a senior safety director and the acting vice president for the Maintenance of Way division.

“It is further believed that these individuals may have had a genuine, although incorrect, belief that they would face severe repercussions should they be identified as performing below par. The investigation revealed that [Signals Division] management did exert pressure on subordinates to increase productivity to combat nonproductive behaviors. However, there was no credible evidence uncovered by the [task force] to confirm that management was aware of or had condoned the falsification that was occurring.”

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