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Power Authority paid nearly $40 million in bonuses

Most of us working stiffs can look forward to a pay raise once a year. Well, at least we could before last year's financial meltdown.

But for employees at the New York Power Power Authority, Christmas has come twice a year the past decade.

There was the annual pay raise, of course. Good raises, ones that I found had bumped the average NYPA salary up to more than $82,000 by 2005, as I reported in my "Power Failure" series.

On top of the annual pay raise came something called "variable pay." Something you and I would call a "bonus."

As I report in Sunday's News, the authority from 1999 to 2007 paid out $39.8 million in variable pay/bonuses. It worked out to an average of $2,452 per employee the last year checks were cut. The big cheeses got as much as $8,100.

Practically no one has been left out. Even temps and part-timers got in on the action. Part-time tour guides got $500 apiece.

Over the years, the bonuses amounted to an average of 3.3 percent of pay. I don't know about the rest of you, but there haven't been too many years I've seen a 3.3 percent raise, much less bonus.

NYPA boss Richie Kessel suspended the payments due for 2008 this past March after a lot of politicians started hootin' and hollerin' about the bonuses about the time everyone was screaming about the big bucks still flowing to people in the Wall Street firms that helped get us into this national financial mess.

"You have to put your finger in the wind once in a while and the winds told me that this was not a good idea," Kessel said.

The bonus program hasn't been killed, but it is on life support, pending a study of employee compensation that is in the works. Kessel notes that NYPA competes with the private utilities for talent and therefore has to pay competitive wages and benefits. While he's not sure what the study will show, his hunch is that it demonstrate that NYPA employees on balance are underpaid.

"I'm sure there are some well-paid people at NYPA, but I'm also sure there are a lot of underpaid people at NYPA, too," Kessel said.

Underpaid?

I dunno, maybe there's some engineer someplace who could be making a bigger buck elsewhere. But with one in five employees knocking down over $100,000 a year, with the average janitor making $52,000 a year, security guards $57,000 and trade apprentices -- apprentices! -- $65,000, I think the authority could find takers without bonuses.

Then there's the big bucks given to the big wheels. Roger Kelley was pulling down $235,000 to run the authority in 2007. Given that money, did we need to give the guy a $4,496 bonus to do his job well?  

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, no friend of authorities, is correct in saying a theoretical case for performance-based pay can be made. But the size of the bonuses, on top of already-big paychecks and generous benefits, underscore how the Power Authority in some ways continues to operate in a parallel universe.

And, folks, we're not in it.

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For those of you who want to play a while longer in the sand box, check out these ditties:

Searchable database of all bonuses paid from 2003-2007.

Authority's variable pay policy

Authrority's variable pay criteria for 2007

Story from my 2007 "Power Failure" series on authority pay, perks and profits.







 

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New York Power Authority
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