Monday, May 10, 2010

11 weeks' vacation? Paid separately?

As different people try to guess why and how Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano received a $56,000 bonus last year, on top of his $269,625 salary, a few questions come to mind.

The first one that came to my mind was the 11 weeks' vacation pay that Pagano apparently received if, indeed, that's what it really was. Whoever heard of a corporate policy that provided ELEVEN weeks' vacation, no matter how many years a person was employed? Now, considering Metra is a public body and not a privately-owned business, such a policy becomes even more questionable.

Who's to blame for such a policy? Not Phil Pagano, who would have only asked for it and received it. Anyone can ask for anything, but he got it. If you want to point some fingers, point them at the Metra Boad of Directors for approving it.

Does little Susie, down in the bowels of the Metra organization, who faithfully answers the phone and has taken complaints from passengers for 20 years, get 11 weeks' vacation? Somehow, I doubt it.

Friend and Metra Board member Jack Schaffer told the Northwest Herald that "... the investigation (of Pagano) was limited to whether Pagano had paid himself for 11 weeks of vacation time he had not yet earned." Nice try, Jack.

What employee, executive director or not, gets to withdraw his vacation pay, or withdraw it early? In most organizations the way vacation pay works is, you don't go to the office during your vacation and you still get your paycheck. You don't call Payroll and tell them to write you a check for your vacation pay, and then get that on top of your pay!

How much was Pagano's pay? If he earned, as has been reported, $269,625/year, that's $5,185/week. Gross pay. Before withholding taxes, like Social Security, Federal Income Tax, Illinois Income Tax and any other deductions. Eleven weeks? That's $57,036. Gross. Assuming only 30% for withholding, the net pay would have been $40,000.

So that kind of blows the early withdrawal of vacation pay theory. The only way you "might" get your vacation pay in cash is upon resignation, retirement or termination. So far as I know, the media have not reported when in 2009 Pagano received his unauthorized $56,000 "bonus".

Schaffer was also kind to his late friend when he said that Pagano picked "that" (McHenry to Pingree Road) branch because he would cause the least disruption to the line. Whatever Schaffer is selling, we aren't buying. Pagano appears to have been making a clear "statement" when he, as suspended Executive Director of Metra, walked onto the tracks and stood in front of an approaching Metra train.

There is probably a video of the train bearing down on Pagano that none of us will ever want to see. But the investigators will replay it, not that clues are needed.

And let's hope that the engineer will, somehow, be able to "erase" the image from his mind and that he realizes there was absolutely nothing he could do, once Pagano stepped in front of his train.

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