Working on the Railroad?

September 22nd, 2008 by

The Long Island Railroad has an excellent safety record. They move millions of commuters safely to their destinations every year. You might assume, therefore, that railroad workers are relatively free from disabling workplace injuries. Well, yes and no.
According to a compelling piece in the New York Times by Walt Bogdanich, something terrible happens to L.I.R.R. workers once they retire (beginning at age 50). They become disabled after their working days are over – at an astonishing rate of 97 percent. Now before you pull out your dimes to call OSHA (as if that would do any good), I hasten to add that the vast majority of the disability awards appear to be bogus. Workers simply present evidence of a health problem. They use their own doctors. The ailment does not have to be work related. There are no Independent Medical Exams. (By the time we reach 50+, something is ailing most of us – and that something is grounds for a RR disability payment on top of regular retirement pay.)
Disability applications are reviewed by the federal Railroad Retirement Board, an obscure, depression era entity in Chicago. Applications are almost never rejected (unless the application itself is incomplete). The disability payments, which supplement regular retirement payments, come from federal (ie. taxpayer) coffers. Lest you think that only line workers participate in this windfall, white collar workers enjoy the same benefits. These include the former deputy general counsel, employment manager, claims manager and director of government and community affairs, all of whom assert that they are incapable of performing any work, due to their work-related disabilities. As usual, the fish rots from the head down…
So how much do the former engineers and conductors make? Given the byzantine work rules, they can make as much as $2,000 a day (!) while they are working and can retire on as much as $200,000 or more a year. Oh, as “disabled” retirees, they can play free golf (on their “good days”) on certain New York courses. “All Aboard!”
The Times article has gotten the attention of New York’s governor. As with the financial markets, changes are inevitable. Going forward, who knows, they might even inject a little accountability into the system. Meanwhile, hundreds of retirees soothe the pain of their “disabilities” by playing golf and fishing in Florida. This scandal shows that it’s not just the Wall Street fat cats who live off the rest of us.
Perhaps riders of the L.I.R.R. felt sorry for the conductor punching their tickets, dressed in an ill-fitting uniform and wearing a silly hat. The jokes on all of us: the conductor is looking forward to a retirement that dwarfs the benefits most of us will see. That’s some ticket, indeed!