Union lawsuit claims T payroll system error-riddled

Agency sees no widespread issues; Carmen say problems never get fixed

THE BOSTON CARMEN’S UNION is suing the MBTA, alleging that its payroll system is so poorly managed and so prone to errors that many employees have given up trying to recover money they are owed “because there is no reasonable prospect that the errors will be corrected.”

In a class action lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the Carmen’s Union (Local 589) claimed that pay stub errors have skyrocketed since the T abandoned its own payroll system in July 2017 and joined the state’s system. The lawsuit said errors were rare with the old system, maybe four to six at most work locations over the course of a year. Now, the lawsuit said, there are four to six errors every two-week pay period, adding up to 40 system-wide. An estimated 750 union members have been affected, the union said.

“There are no clear systems for payroll corrections and any which do occur take weeks or months to accomplish,” the lawsuit said.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo issued a statement saying there is no problem.

“Since launching this new payroll system, which was implemented with the help of the Comptroller, the T has improved overall payroll accuracy and has not seen any widespread issues,” the statement said. “The MBTA has consistently worked with Local 589 and the Comptroller in an effort to quickly resolve any potential payroll issues and will continue to do so.”

Jimmy O’Brien, president of the Carmen’s Union, issued his own statement in response. “They can say that trains weren’t delayed on the Red Line yesterday, too – but everybody knows the truth,” he said. “If the MBTA really valued these hardworking men and women then they would be offering solutions instead of spin. This lawsuit is not the first they have heard of this. We look forward to our day in court.”

The lawsuit identified a host of issues, including pay stubs with incorrect hourly pay rates, work hours, overtime hours, and pay for sick and vacation leaves. Some of the problems were described as almost random, with employees being paid for 16 hours they didn’t work and then being docked for the 16 hours of pay in a later paycheck with no explanation. During one pay period this year, according to the lawsuit, more than 50 Green Line maintenance employees received no check at all and had to travel downtown to obtain their money.

“The contractual grievance system is designed so that union officials deal with named supervisory counterparts, but none of them have sufficient knowledge, capacity, or authority to correct payroll errors,” the lawsuit said.

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Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The union claims the problem is so bad that MBTA supervisors have on occasion bypassed the payroll system entirely “by offering the underpaid worker additional overtime assignments which the worker would not ordinarily receive in the following pay period in order to ‘make up’ for underpayments.”

William McLeod, a Green Line operator and one of the four named plaintiffs, said he wasn’t paid for 4.9 hours he worked during the pay period that ended July 23, 2017; for 34.66 hours he worked during the pay period ending August 5, 2017; and 8.6 hours on September 2, 2017. He said he was paid for 20 hours he did not work on August 19, 2017, and was issued a “negative paycheck” in the amount of $769.91 on August 10, 2017.