"They demean their own workers publicly on a consistent basis, and they fail to acknowledge NYC Transit workers work in some of the most horrific conditions you can imagine," Samuelsen added.
"Several bus operators are assaulted every week, subway workers breathe in toxic fumes. ... We put our lives on the line to move the riding public, and when we get sick, the company tries to portray us as slackers," Samuelsen fumed.
The cash-crunched MTA plans to reduce overtime spending by $22 million this year with changes that do not need union approval.
The agency hopes to slash another $60 million next year, which will require some union consent, Monheim said.
In fact, 16% of bus and subway workers didn't call in sick once last year.
But 25% took a whopping 15 or more sick days, he said.
"This is the percentage of employees [that take a] mental-health day. They wake up in the morning and say, 'I dont feel like working today,'" Prendergast said.
Managers don't always have the right to call and verify the employee is at home or demand a doctor's note, Prendergast said.
The MTA agreed in past contract negotiations to ease up on sick-time regulations, scrutiny and punishments after workers griped they were too harsh.
"It's arguable about whether the pendulum swung too far in the other direction," Prendergast said.
Among the reforms needed, LIRR President Helena Williams said, is no longer paying overtime after an eight-hour shift. Instead, OT should kick in only after a worker puts in a 40-hour week, she said.
Even workers who have used up their allotment of paid sick days can take an unpaid day off and easily make up the lost pay by working a few hours of overtime in the following days, officials complained.