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Does Anyone Go To Work At This Government Agency?

A new report claims employees at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority miss an average of 57 working days per year—about three times the absenteeism at other transit agencies.

“A panel directed by [Republican] Gov. Charlie Baker to diagnose problems at the MBTA finds that excessive absenteeism is a major problem at the embattled transit agency,” WCVB-TV reported Monday after obtaining a draft copy of the panel’s upcoming report.

According to the report, “most groups of MBTA employees have absenteeism rates of 15 percent or more,” triple the 5 to 6 percent rate at similar transit agencies, resulting in the average MBTA employee missing “the equivalent of almost three months of work.”

“Tens of thousands of trips are cancelled each year because of unplanned absences,” the article says, noting that due to the MBTA’s voluntary overtime policies, “management cannot order workers to cover vacant shifts.” (RELATED: Unions Oppose Plan to Privatize Atlanta Public Transportation)

Absenteeism was especially problematic for the agency last winter, when Boston suffered through particularly severe weather and record snowfall, according to the Boston Herald.

“More than half of all MBTA workers called in sick or took at least one day off during the snowiest three-week span this winter as the public transit agency was dealing with an epic paralysis of the system,” the article claims.

Overall, “MBTA employees used 14,178 sick, vacation or personal days between Jan. 27 and Feb. 16—a 32 percent increase over the same 21-day period last year.” (RELATED: Christmas Message Lands Boston Worker in Hot Water)

According to The Boston Globe, the cash-strapped MBTA is even digging into its capital budget to pay salaries and benefits for 444 employees, depleting funds that are “meant to pay for large-scale projects, such as replacing aging subway cars and upgrading decrepit stations.”

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the Globe that the employees cost about $54 million in salaries and benefits, out of a total capital budget estimated at $1.29 billion. (RELATED: Infrastructure Spending: Are Buses the Answer?)

“Because balancing the MBTA’s operating budget is an annual struggle, some employees who work on capital projects are paid with capital funds,” he explained.

While experts agree the arrangement is legal, it is also costly, because the capital budget is funded partly through bond issues. Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA’s advisory board, pointed out that when employees are paid out of the capital budget, “You’re not only paying them their wages, you’re borrowing their wages, and paying principal interest over the life of the bond.”

To help restore the agency to long-term solvency, WCVB claims, the governor’s panel “recommends that the MBTA develop a plan to substantially reduce absenteeism,” but apparently refrains from making any specific recommendations.

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