While unions representing workers at Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are striking to maintain their health care benefits, another union in the New York City area is coming under the microscope for excessive overtime pay.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA), which is planning massive fare and toll hikes amidst complaints of spiraling costs, paid out an enormous $86-million in overtime compensation last year, according to the New York state comptroller's office.

According to the comptroller’s survey, PA handed out overtime to 5,360 of its 6,977 employees (almost 77 percent) in 2010 — primarily to PATH train and Public Safety Department workers. Also, the latter two segments received about two-thirds of the $459-million in overtime shelled out by the agency between 2006 and 2010.

Overtime flows like water at the Port Authority, and management has no clear strategy to achieve its own benchmarks and goals for curbing costs, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday.

Moreover, in 2009, 24 employees earned overtime that exceeded their base salaries. For example, one employee who has base salary of $107,878, reportedly received an additional $153,530 in overtime last year.

The PA, which runs most the transportation infrastructure, including bridges, tunnels, airports, and seaports, in the New York metropolitan area, is coincidentally preparing to vote Friday on proposed sharp increases in bridge and tunnel tolls and higher fares for the PATH [Port Authority Trans-Hudson] railway service which links Manhattan to New Jersey – in an effort to raise $1-billion in revenue over the next three years.

Reportedly, both governors of New York and New Jersey (Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie) have approved the PA’s planned fare hikes.

DiNapoli further stated: Every agency in this state is tightening its belt. Before the Port Authority asks for more money to fund its operations, the agency should take a long, hard look at whether its business model for managing overtime really makes sense.

In addition, the PA’s own budget for 2010 called for overtime costs to be cut by 20 percent – however, comptrollers found out that the reduction amounted to only 3 percent.

In response, the PA stated: “The Port Authority just received this report and we take it very seriously. We will continue to cut costs and make sure we value every dollar as we work to meet the region’s needs.”?

Meanwhile, unions who represent PA workers claim the fare hikes are necessary because they will help create 167,000 jobs over the next ten years and will pay for capital improvements to infrastructure.

Anthony Williamson, a union organizer, told reporters: I see a fair plan, one that spreads the toll among users of the infrastructure we need. I see a plan to create tens of thousands of solid middle-class jobs.”

Another union official, Edward Pichardo, said: “We either pay now, and get it done, or pay later and suffer decreased service and poor road conditions. It makes sense to initiate the repairs and replacements at time when [fewer] drivers are on the roads.”