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Fraud on Railroad

Fraud on Railroad

By Ed Koch - September 24, 2008

The New York Times, with its enormous staff of investigative reporters, in an article on September 21st exposed an appalling situation at the Long Island Rail Road, which is owned by the State of New York and operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The employees of the LIRR receive very generous pensions and can retire at age 50 after 20 years of service. In addition, they have a benefit called "occupational disability," which The Times describes as

follows: "...rail workers can get disability payments even if they can perform other jobs - just not their regular jobs."

According to the Times, the retirement board's inspector general acknowledged that "the board's rejection rate (for the benefit) was almost nonexistent," adding, "If Congress wants to change the statute and raise the threshold that's up to Congress. That is not up to us to do."

What's happening here is a massive rip-off. The public,which ultimately pays for these disability claims, is being fleeced. "In each year since 2000, between 93 percent and 97 percent of (LIRR) employees over 50 who retired with 20 years of service also received disability payments," reports The Times.

The Times investigation also uncovered significant abuses in work rules. According to The Times, a train engineer whose records were examined was allowed to receive "four days pay for one days work (8 hour shift). That same engineer, Edward J. Koerber, who was supposed to receive a wage of $30 an hour, earned $211,586 in 2004 and $276,456 in 2005, in part by using penalty payments" which were added to his wages.

Another example cited by The Times is a husband and wife team, now retired. She is a former director of government and community affairs. He is a former authority board member and chairman of the LIRR labor council which represents all of the LIRR unions. The couple have "pensions and disability payments [of] about $280,000 annually."

In a follow-up report, the Times on September 22nd reported, "Gov. David A. Paterson said on Sunday that he would give Andrew M. Cuomo, the state's attorney general, broad powers to investigate the Long Island Rail Road as part of a wide-ranging review his administration would seek of how disability and pension benefits were potentially manipulated by LIRR supervisors, workers and retirees."

The Times report stated, "The governor's action comes after The New York Times reported that virtually every career employee of the railroad applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal disability money. The disability claims are paid by an obscure federal agency called the Railroad Retirement Board."

In its continuing coverage, The Times reported on September 23rd, "The costs are no minor issue for the transportation authority, the parent agency that overseas the railroad. Authority officials have warned that they may have to increase fares and tolls next year to close a widening budget gap, and they have also begun exploring possible service cuts. Though the railroad has a strong safety record, its disability rate in recent years has been three to four times that of the average railroad. When its disability rate is compared with that of the Metro-North Railroad, the authority subsidiary that serves commuters north of New York City and Connecticut, the disparity is even more striking. Metro-North, with a work force of roughly the same size, had 32 cases of disabilities resulting from arthritis and rheumatism from 2001 through 2007, compared with 753 at the LIRR during the same period."

One reason that transit workers are able to bully management into yielding to their demands is the threat of a strike. However, in 1980, when I was mayor, the public showed that it was ready to put up with the inconvenience of a strike if it has confidence in the government leadership representing the public at the negotiations.

There are two ways to take on the abuses at the LIRR - the Congress can either eliminate the occupational disability from the law, or at least make it track the Social Security definition. If the LIRR employees strike, the government should not fold on these issues.

The Times reporters responsible for exposing these rip-offs are Walt Bogdanich, Andrew W. Lehren, Robert A. McDonald and Nicholas Phillips. They deserve a Pulitzer Prize.

* * *

The Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project released a survey of European and U.S. attitudes on anti-Semitism and other bigotry. The statistics relating to Great Britain and the U.S. were especially surprising.

The report states, "Great Britain stands out as the only European country included in the survey where there has not been a substantial increase in anti-Semitic attitudes. Just 9% of the British rate Jews unfavorably, which is largely unchanged from recent years. And relatively small percentages in both Australia (11%) and the Unites States (7%) continue to view Jews unfavorably."

An earlier report in 2006 during the Tony Blair administration conveyed a different atmosphere in Britain. The author of the report was Denis MacShane who wrote, "Hatred of Jews has reached new heights in Europe and many points south and east of the old continent. Last year I chaired a blue-ribbon committee of British parliamentarians, including former ministers and a party leader, that examined the problem of anti-Semitism in Britain. None of us are Jewish or active in the unending debates on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Our report showed a pattern of fear among a small number of British citizens -- there are around 300,000 Jews in Britain, of whom about a third are observant -- that is not acceptable in a modern democracy. Synagogues attacked. Jewish schoolboys jostled on public transportation.

Rabbis punched and knifed. British Jews feeling compelled to raise millions to provide private security for their weddings and community events. On campuses, militant anti-Jewish students fueled by Islamist or far-left hate seeking to prevent Jewish students from expressing their opinions. More worrisome was what we described as anti-Jewish discourse, a mood and tone whenever Jews are discussed, whether in the media, at universities, among the liberal media elite or at dinner parties of modish London. To express any support for Israel or any feeling for the right of a Jewish state to exist produces denunciation, even contempt."

While negative attitudes towards Jews have apparently not increased in Britain, according to the Pew report, attitudes in Germany and France have worsened: "German and French attitudes have also grown somewhat more negative. Currently 25% of Germans have an unfavorable opinion of Jews up from 20% in 2004. Over the same period unfavorable views in France have increased form 11% to 20%. French president Nicolas Sarkozy has made a point of stating his support for the State of Israel and protecting Jews in France from assault. His predecessor Jacques Chirac was not seen by the Jewish community as friendly to them or to the State of Israel.

In Russia, with respect to Jews, "(34%) voice an unfavorable view, up from 25% in 2004."

Muslims are viewed more unfavorably by non-Muslims . "Fully half of Spanish (52%) and German respondents (50%) rat[ing] Muslims unfavorably." In Poland it is 46% negative and in France 38% negative.

Undoubtedly, the Muslim terrorist acts by British Muslims is responsible for the negative feelings. "Just 14% of the British public expressed a negative view of Muslims in 2005 compared with 23% today."

The shocking statistics relate to unfavorable attitudes toward Christians, "about one in four Spanish (24%) now rate Christians negatively, up from 10% in 2005. Similarly, in France 17% now hold an unfavorable view of Christians, compared with 9% in 2004."

The negative attitudes cited towards Christians in the poll - Spain 24%, France 17%, Germany 12% (a decline from 16% since 2004) are surprising. In the U.S. the negative view of Christians is 3%.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

Copyright 2008, Real Clear Politics

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