It’s a pretty sweet gig if you’re guaranteed $400,000 a year for hanging around and doing no work – and it’s a flaming outrage if you’re getting fat like that on the backs of the taxpayers.
Which is what some members of Locals 14 and 15 of the operating engineers are spectacularly doing on large construction sites across the city. Boiled down to the essence, a typical clause of their contracts reads:
Show up. Punch in. Walk around. Punch out. Collect 400Gs, plus a generous pension, plus an even more generous retirement annuity
The operating engineers have jurisdiction over the heavy machinery that moves material on big projects. The multibillion-dollar reconstruction at Ground Zero is their biggest job today – and their biggest ripoff.
The Port Authority will spend $100 million over the course of three years paying through the nose for these no-work sinecures and other featherbedded positions, according to an analysis by the Real Estate Board of New York.
The two locals have documented histories of domination by organized crime. They also have the muscle to bring a high-rise construction project to a halt because nothing goes on without running cranes and hoists.
Applying that power, the locals have not only wrung huge compensation packages out of contractors, they have also preserved job titles that are obsolete thanks to advances in crane design. The Daily News reports today, for example, that 56 of 204 Local 14 and Local 15 members at the Trade Center held no-work jobs.
Consider the so-called master mechanic. Theoretically, this person stands by to make crane repairs. Actually, the role dates to a time when cranes were less hydraulic and less computerized than they are today – and more prone to breakdowns.
Today, with little to do, a master mechanic serves at best as a union shop steward. Further diminishing his usefulness: The contractor who pays a master mechanic does not own the crane and is barred from making repairs on the machine. The crane owner takes care of breakdowns.
The job is fabulously rewarding and enormously costly.
Base pay is $135,000 a year for a 40-hour week. But that’s just the start, because Trade Center construction goes on at least 12 hours a day, six days a week. Overtime is mandatory as long as the master mechanic shows up. It totals $270,000 a year.
On top of that, the contractor pays a mind-boggling $175,000 annually in pension, annuity and health benefit costs for a master mechanic, plus $89,000 in workers’ compensation insurance, plus $34,000 in taxes. Total tab for that one idle master mechanic: $700,000 a year.
Then there are maintenance engineers – salary and benefits, $412,000 – who watch over machinery solely so they can report a breakdown so the owner can send someone to make repairs.
And then there are the oilers, who used to tend to mechanical cranes but now get more than $165,000 in salary and benefits for turning cranes on in the morning and off at night.
The abuses stand in marked contrast to the valued, honest labor that is the norm among New York City’s construction workforce – men and women who well earn their pay.
Where public works are concerned, the abuses are also a heavy burden on the taxpayers that must be curtailed.