METRO-NORTH RAILROAD COMMUTER COUNCIL
MINUTES OF NOVEMBER 14, 2013
A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 PM on Thursday, November 14, 2013, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
James Blair Francis Corcoran
The following members participated via Telephone:
The following members were absent:
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Sr. Transportation Planner
Raymond Burney -Metro-North Railroad
Gregory Bradley -Metro-North Railroad
Stephanie Martinez -Metro-North Railroad
Barry Adler -Concerned citizen
Richard Schulman -Concerned citizen
As a courtesy to its guests who had arrived at the beginning of the meeting, the council asked them to proceed with their presentation as the first order of business.
Introduction of MNR Senior Vice President – Administration Raymond Burney to discuss Succession Planning at Metro-North
Accompanying Mr. Burney were Greg Bradley and Stephanie Martinez of the Metro-North Railroad Human Resources Department.
Jim Blair asked what is likely to happen with the number of new retirees over time. Mr. Burney responded that this number is likely to rise over the coming years. He said that there are several reasons for this. Metro-North’s retirement plan is rather generous and provides that employees can retire at the age 55 with 30 years of service. With the Railroad entering its third decade in existence, there are many employees who are reaching 30 years of service. Many of them can afford to take advantage of this provision, as with 30 years of service employees can retire at 60 percent of their normal salary.
Ellyn Shannon asked whether this would result in a talent drain. Mr. Burney responded that many employees are eligible to retire starting this year and that the lack of raises is helping employees make the decision to leave. He discussed the projected attrition rates contained in the presentation that he brought to the MNRCC. Mr. Burney said that of 50 vacancies at the Director level or above over the past decade, 7 were filled in 2013. He noted that attrition is not only a challenge at Metro-North but one that all railroads are facing. One of the biggest hurdles in maintaining adequate staffing is the difficulty in ensuring knowledge transfer to the retirees’ replacements.
Mr. Blair asked what tools are being used to keep employees in their positions. Mr. Burney commented the Railroad has limited tools and not much is being done in comparison with the private sector. Most efforts play on employees’ good graces and their pride in preparing the next person for the job. He stated that there have been a few cases where people were paid more than the normal salary structure to retain their specialized skills, but that this is not a common strategy.
Mr. Blair commented some companies have a goal of creating managers, so that those who have been trained can be moved around from area to area. Mr. Burney stated that Metro-North started a program with a similar goal in 2009, but financial cutbacks made it difficult to keep this effort going. He stated they Metro-North can’t retain valuable employees without doing something additional.
To address the issue, Mr. Burney said that Mr. Bradley is managing a succession planning effort to identify needs, see what internal candidate may be available, and look for places from which external candidates can be attracted.
Mr. Blair asked the MTA measures up to other companies in the marketplace. Mr. Bradley replied that the MTA does not compare well; the MTA has lower salaries and more restrictive advancement policies that makes it less competitive for applicants. There are no bonuses and no pay for performance. As a result, most people who come to Metro-North do so for a lifestyle change, such as limited travel or more predictable schedules. Mr. Burney said that there is an internal procedure where a candidate for a position is employed by the MTA or another of its agencies, which involves discussions with the other agency.
Ms. Shannon inquired whether Metro-North uses the Hay Points system. Mr. Bradley responded that while they do, not all MTA agencies use the same grade scales and MTAHQ has not adjusted its ratings since 2009, which complicates the situation. Hay points are as a result not comparable across agencies or equivalent to private employers’ ratings, but are only useful in comparing positions internally. He said that Metro-North has not asked its Hay point consultants to make comparisons to outside employers.
Mr. Burney stated that they have recently hired talent management personnel to do talent management to help groom future managers internally and that 100 percent of managers have completed performance reviews over last three years. Mr. Bradley stated that they had done performance assessments before, but these efforts are a change from past practice.
Mr. Blair asked if Metro-North has considered using 360 Reviews. Mr. Burney stated that they have used them as a developmental tool for personnel at the Director level or above. Mr. Burney also noted that Metro-North has set aside $600,000 for training. They will use some of the funds to implement a two week management core program. They are also working on a senior executive training program. Ms. Shannon asked whether conferences are counted as training. Mr. Burney stated usually they are not and that these expenses are generally approved by a department head.
Mr. Burney said that another means of developing talent is a summer internship program where promising students are paid $15.00 per hour and get a sense of what it is like to work for Metro-North. He said that there has been 100 percent positive feedback from the interns on the program and that Metro-North goes out of its way to make sure that the interns are doing meaningful things and are not just filing or typing. The interns are divided into five teams to work on presenting recommendations of ways to improve Metro-North service.
Mr. Burney said that in January Metro-North will hold a forum that will function as a job fair for interns. For this event they will only bring in 300 students and will ensure that each of them is interviewed, with the goal of hiring 54 interns. These internships help in recruiting for non-represented positions at Metro-North, and to recruit candidates for represented positions Metro-North is developing a relationship with Gateway Community College, which has resulted in ten hires, and hopes to expand the program. In December 2013 Metro-North will restart a mentoring program that was on hiatus and take it forward into 2014. There is also an Associate Engineer program that targets recent college graduates.
Bill Henderson asked about changing attitudes toward careers and their impacts on retention. Mr. Burney replied that this is a new generation and it has become more difficult to retain people than in the past. He said that there have to be good reasons for employees to stay and that Metro-North emphasizes the stability of the organization as a reason to stay, but to be successful Metro-North will have to challenge and reward its employees, and its salary structure makes this difficult.
Mr. Blair noted that Metro-North has had discussion about their inability to get enough qualified people to do Maintenance of Way (MoW) work. Mr. Burney said that he had just left a meeting about bringing new people into MoW Department. He said that the first three levels of management in MoW are unionized, and that Metro-North is trying to change the structure to put in an additional non-represented management level.
Ms. Shannon wanted to know if this information was put together to allow Metro-North to make the case for talent management if budgets are threatened in the future. Mr. Burney said that this has been done at some level it has been done, in part to justify the creation of additional positions, but at base the talent management positions will always be vulnerable as they don’t immediately impact day to day operations. He said that from 2007 until 2013 existing positions had to be eliminated in order to create new positions.
Francis Corcoran asked if Metro-North has seen attrition at any particular time in employees’ careers. Mr. Bradley responded that they are seeking to stem attrition by offering challenges through the Associate Engineer program, and this program has a salary plan that provides incentives to stay. Junior technical personnel at Metro-North have the opportunity to work on bigger projects than they would in the private sector, but funding must increase to retain people over time. Mr. Corcoran asked whether the experience requirements for positions had changed over the years. Mr. Bradley replied that Human Resources has spoken to the Metro-North departments to try to ensure that job requirements are realistic and the talent pool is not restricted.
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the November 14, 2013 meeting was approved. The minutes of the September 17, 2013 meeting were approved as amended.
Randy Glucksman gave a brief summary of the Chair’s Report, which had been distributed to members. He noted that PCAC meeting has been moved to December 5, 2013
Jim Blair gave the Board Report. He said that on-time performance is down, but should improve as work in the Bronx is completed. Mr. Blair said that the past few Board meetings had dealt with many problems, including the Con Edison power outage on the New Haven Line and the Bridgeport derailment. He said that there are roadbed integrity problems in the Bronx and that they are serious. As a result the concrete ties in this area are falling apart, as a result of movement and water acting on them. The deterioration is evident in the appearance of a white powder on the roadbeds.
Richard Schulman noted that many concrete ties have failed because of manufacturing defects and asked if Metro-North is sure that this is not the cause. Mr. Glucksman commented that he has been told that the cause is the water and condition of the roadbed.
Mr. Blair noted a procurement that was approved to hire a new firm to manage escalators in Grand Central Terminal. He said that he asked whether this work could be done in house, but was told that it would require an outside contractor because of the technical complexity of the equipment there.
Mr. Blair said that Orrin Getz had raised the possibility of Amtrak stopping at Secaucus in his comments at the meeting, which could have an impact on Metro-North’s West of Hudson riders.
The Customer Satisfaction Survey results were presented in the last Board meeting cycle and showed stable results overall, although the number of riders who were “very satisfied” dropped and those who were merely “satisfied” increased.
Mr. Blair also noted that a procurement action was approved for an arm of Siemens to implement Positive Train Control.
Mr. Blair commented on the proposed MTA Budget. He said that the projection for the bottom line has improved by $800 million and as a result the projected fare increases have been reduced to yield a 4 percent increase in revenue. He said that the MTA is still looking for $500 million in additional savings to fund the budget. In addition, the plan is fragile because it depends on net zero wage settlements with the represented workforce and the LIRR will be able to strike in July for higher wages. The stability of the Payroll Mobility Tax is another issue in the budget, as there is still pressure to eliminate it in the counties outside of New York City.
On the positive side, there is growing support on the MTA Board for service enhancements. A number of members support increased service, including both changes to reverse the 2010 service cutbacks and new service to address unmet needs throughout the region.
Mr. Glucksman said that the performance and quality of Metro-North’s BL20 locomotives have concerned him in the past and continue to concern him. He said that this equipment does not appear to be able to handle the demands placed on it.
Rhonda Herman commented that riders have raised issues with the seat drops that Metro-North distributes. A number of her fellow riders have commented that they would like Metro-North to go green and stop printing the seat drops. She also noted that the Secretary to the Governor has noted that he believes that the quality of service, and particularly on-time performance, is deteriorating on the Harlem Line since Governor Cuomo took office. Mr. Blair stated that Board Member Jonathan Ballan has been vocal in raising these issues.
At 6:00 PM the meeting was adjourned.