MBTA offers 2 employees ‘sign-on bonuses’

Another 5 receive performance bonuses

A correction has been added to this story concerning the information regarding Angel Pena.

THE MBTA has begun offering so-called “sign-on bonuses” to attract some employees to join the transit authority.

According to T officials, two employees received the bonuses last year — Vikram Dogra, deputy chief of capital programs, who received a $20,000 bonus on a salary of $219,000, and Chief Financial Officer Mary Ann O’Hara, who received a $10,000 bonus on a salary of $227,000.

Five employees received performance bonuses in 2020 based on pre-established goals.  As previously reported, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak received a performance bonus of $20,800 on a salary of $324,000.

But Poftak did not get the highest performance bonus at the T.  That distinction went to Angel Pena, chief of Green Line transformation.  He received a $39,375 bonus for work in 2019 on a salary of $218,000. Pena has been at the T for 2½ years, coming from the transit authority in Washington, DC.

The three other recipients of the performance bonuses were Raymond Wise, senior director of procurement operations ($28,435); Danny Levy, chief customer experience officer ($27,675); and Benjamin Schutzman, chief of paratransit services ($15,750). 

Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA deputy general manager, did not receive a bonus although his contract allows for one.  “Gonneville neither requested nor received a bonus last year or this year,” said Joe Pesaturo, the T’s spokesman.

For many years the T has had difficulty attracting high-quality employees and retaining them once they take their jobs. In fiscal year 2019, the T managed to hire more workers than it lost for the first time in five years. In fiscal year 2020, according to a presentation to the Fiscal and Management Control Board last year, the T was expected to hire 1,047 employees and lose 500 through retirements and voluntary separations.

Schutzman, who received a bonus as the head of paratransit services, was one of three MBTA employees profiled by CommonWealth in 2018 who were hired to help change the culture of the agency. Shutzman is the only one still working at the authority.

The MBTA workforce has slowly been growing – in fiscal 2017 it had 6,547 workers and as of last February it had 6,301. The average salary of a T worker is now $79,355, up 12 percent from $70,788 when Gov. Charlie Baker came into office in 2015.

Pesaturo noted a report issued by the Fiscal and Management Control Board said the transit authority typically pays below the market rate for key leadership and non-union executive positions. “This leads to good internal people leaving and undermines the authority’s capacity to attract, hire and retain next-generation leaders,” the report states.

Jim Aloisi, a former secretary of transportation and a member of the TransitMatters board, said he knows many of the people who received bonuses and they deserve them based on their performance.

 “I have no objection to compensating people appropriately,” he said. “But the glaring inconsistency of issuing bonuses while cutting service points to a serious credibility problem that can’t easily be overlooked.”