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Another Voice: Study showed NFTA's pay levels are too low

By Sister Denise A. Roche

In response to articles in The Buffalo News, including one published recently, I feel the need to set the record straight. In my interview, I attempted to preserve the integrity of executive session, required by law, while at the same time, trying to answer questions that are in the public interest. To suggest that there is a conspiracy, lie or cover-up, is incorrect.

The NFTA Board of Commissioners is ultimately responsible for ensuring the NFTA remains an organization of excellence. As chair, my responsibility includes developing and sustaining key organizational leadership so we can fulfill our mission during challenging financial times. To maintain that excellence, talent must be retained. It is particularly important in terms of pay equity.

When the NFTA board commissioned a study to examine how the compensation of staff compared to other similar agencies, pay equity rose to the top. The independent study found that the NFTA’s compensation levels are significantly below comparable agencies and other local nonprofits. A similar study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association confirmed those results as well. In fact, male executive directors at other New York transit agencies with far less oversight and responsibility than the NFTA’s executive director are more highly compensated. It is interesting to note that the issue of pay equity has not been raised previously, when in fact, the NFTA’s first and only female executive director makes just 75 percent of what her male counterparts make in Rochester, Albany and Syracuse – all governed by male chairs.

During many discussions the board collectively agreed pay scale issues needed to be addressed. As chair, this responsibility for making adjustments in senior executive staff pay rests with me, as it always has with past NFTA chairs.

I did offer and authorized increases that were phased in over time and therefore less than those recommended by the consultant. When New York State’s fiscal concerns were raised, the proposed increases were declined by the senior staff and immediately repaid. To be clear, senior executive staff did not receive pay increases and their salaries remain at the same levels of two years ago. I believe that this sacrifice is commendable and demonstrates their loyalty and commitment to the organization.

Public sector pay increases are invariably seen as a negative and I understand this. As chair, I have to make decisions based on what I believe is best for the authority, that will ultimately translate  to providing the best service possible for the thousands of our customers who depend on bus, rail and aviation services every day. In regards to the balance of the comments in The Buffalo News with respect to my faith and calling, I simply state my commitment to address the needs of our community and attacks on my beliefs will not detract me from focusing on the NFTA’s core mission to provide safe, efficient and professional transportation services that enhance the quality of life in our community.

Sister Denise A. Roche is chair of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Board of Commissioners.

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