BART janitor's $270K pay raises questions: 2 Investigates

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- A BART janitor who earned more than a quarter million dollars in salary, overtime, and benefits made headlines for his eye-popping pay.

But now 2 Investigates has uncovered some serious questions about how he earned all that money and why supervisors haven’t taken a closer look.

The janitor, Liang Zhao Zhang, earned $57,945 in base pay in 2015 for cleaning San Francisco’s Powell Street station. But according to public records uncovered by Transparent California, his also raked in an additional $162,050 in overtime, bringing his total salary and benefits that year to $271,243.

“It’s absolutely outrageous,” said Robert Fellner, with Transparent California.

Fellner has examined public employee salary information for years, and says he has never seen anything like this.

“For Janitors that’s obscene! It’s unconscionable!”

2 Investigates obtained Zhang’s timecard data and plotted it out over the calendar year. The results showed the BART paid Zhang every single day in 2015. Most days he worked overtime, clocking in about 17 hours of work. He also used some days of paid vacation and holidays in order to rake in pay for 365 days that year.

In one stretch during July 2015, Zhang worked 17 hour days for 18 days straight, according to timecard records.

“Super human!” said Fellner. “The average reaction to that is ‘How is that possible?'"

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BART’s Chief Transportation Officer Roy Aguilera says it’s possible because Zhang never refuses extra work and picks up much of the overtime hours offered.

Aguilera says the population of homeless people who spend time in the Powell Street station means the janitorial staff spends much of their time cleaning up urine, feces, and needles, which he calls “totally unacceptable.”

“People are not raising their hands and saying, ‘I want some of that overtime.’ Mr. Zhang has said yes, he’s worked hard, he’s completed his assignments, so I stand by the work he’s done,” Aguilera said.

When asked whether he’s check up on Zhang’s performance, time cards, or overtime hours, Aguilera said he personally hasn’t but the supervisors working under him have.

2 Investigates learned that BART has never conducted an extensive investigation of Zhang’s time cards, despite the janitor earning more than $705,000 in pay and benefits during the four years from 2012 to 2015.

Graph Source: BART Spokesperson Alicia Trost

There have also been 49 other BART janitors who have earned more than $100,000 in 2015, and the agency also confirmed it has not audited or investigated those employees either.

In an email, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said “There are multiple management systems in place to ensure hours worked and assignments are completed.” She also confirmed there is no future audit being considering after KTVU’s investigation.

But when 2 Investigates randomly checked on Zhang’s performance and timesheets, discrepancies and questions quickly arose. While inspecting two random days of surveillance video from BART’s own security cameras, KTVU investigators spotted Zhang working, sweeping, mopping on a riding machine, and taking out the trash. But, according to the timestamp on BART’s video, Zhang also appears to have disappeared inside a storage closet for hours at a time.

On the first day that 2 Investigates logged, Zhang appears to go into the closet twice, for 54 minutes and 90 minutes respectively. On the second day of video, he spends 90 minutes in the closet in the afternoon, and another 78 minutes behind the door later that evening.

A BART spokesperson said she cannot be certain that Zhang is the janitor pictured in one of the video clips, but that in other instances it is “obvious.” She said the janitors may be cleaning, repairing equipment, or taking breaks in that closet, but the agency does not track breaks. Earlier, though, Aguilera had said the closet is not a break room and employees eat their lunches in a separate room in a different part of the station. But he wouldn’t allow 2 Investigates to see inside the closet.

2 Investigates also found questions on Zhang’s timesheet. Over two months, he failed to clock in or out to verify his hours three times. BART General Manager Grace Crunican said she wasn’t aware of those discrepancies.

“Well, this piece is news to me, yes that would be concerning if we had an examination with the supervisor and there wasn’t a good reason for that.”

Crunican also said she has not personally seen the surveillance video of Zhang spending hours inside the Powell Street station closet. She said she does not believe, based on the information she’s seen, that Zhang’s high pay and time sheet warrants an audit.

“We’ve increased the staffing two years in a row, we’ve reduced the overtime this past year,” she said, “we’ve reduced the number of hours for overtime.”

2 Investigates also showed Crunican video of dirty conditions at Powell Street station taken over several days. It shows sticky handrails, trash on the floor, and dirt and dust built up under benches.

“I do agree with you that those levels those standards are not good,” she said.

Aguilera argued that because of the constant need to clean up human waste and drug at Powell Street that janitors do not have time to keep the rest of the station clean. He showed 2 Investigates a list of the janitors’ daily duties and cleaning the elevators was listed as No. 2. Aguilera said the cleaning crew can rarely get past cleaning the elevators because of the constant mess. Cleaning the “restroom, offices, lunch room, and locker rooms” is number 11 on that list, and cleaning the “janitor’s room” is at the bottom.

BART administration says that Zhang’s direct supervisor approved all his timesheets and overtime, and they insist he is one of their best employees.

But Fellner disagrees, insisting that enough questions exist about how custodians are being managed that BART should have audited their overtime and pay years ago. “I would say a catastrophic management failure there.”

Source: Data compiled from timecard information provided by BART


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