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Metro workers are ok - facts about pay and benefits

How much more bus service would you like Metro to cut, and how many more junior employees would you like Metro to lay off? There is NO new money coming in.

Metro is NOT cheating its employees. Wages and benefits have risen much faster than inflation. No one has lost ground economically.

Even after contributing to the cost of health insurance, most bus drivers are better off by $10,000 to $16,000, thanks to the generous raises in their 2002-2005 contract. To fund those raises, Metro cut bus service 20%, laid off junior employees, and raised fares 25 to 50%.

Now, some union members are asking questions about MetroBase, probably in hopes that the project can be stopped and the money, spent on new raises. But this money -- capital money -- would just go back to the state and federal governments; it CANNOT be used for operations. What's more, MetroBase will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year -- money that CAN be spent on new bus service and new jobs. Today, Metro rents space to park and maintain its fleet and buys fuel from a gas station, at the full retail price. Any union member who questions Metro's effort to build a permanent, publicly-owned bus facility can't see farther than his next paycheck.

Only by moderating the growth in wages and benefits, and building MetroBase, can we keep public transit viable in Santa Cruz County. Before anyone accuses me of trying to cut people's pay, notice that an annual raise in line with the Consumer Price Index is the exact opposite of a pay cut. It's a formula that will guarantee that every Metro employee keeps up with the cost of living. It's also a formula that Metro can afford, without laying off more employees and cutting more service.

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For those who are interested, here is some factual information, taken from contracts and the budget. All figures are approximate, and dollar amounts have been rounded to the nearest thousand for easy reading. I am happy to meet with anyone who wants to go over the contracts and the budget in greater depth. I have been studying this material for three years and am an active and well-respected participant in the public process at Metro.

The vast majority of drivers earn $52,000 and get 6 weeks of paid vacation. All receive 12 days of paid sick leave, convertible to cash. There are 9 paid holidays, and drivers receive triple pay on some of them. Metro provides $7,000 for health insurance and also pays a significant share of the pension (drivers requested an enhanced pension benefit several years ago, and they are responsible for the cost of the enhancement). Bilingual pay is $1,000 per year. Long-time drivers are first in line for a $1.2 million pool of overtime.

I do not want to single out bus drivers. Metro's other employees are also treated well, though the details differ, and are harder to explain in a small amount of space. (For example, a special raise that drivers received in 2004 was given to other employees a few years earlier.) Obviously, the non-driver group includes many different job categories, each with a different wage or salary.

Side note about health insurance: Metro buys health insurance from the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS). Switching to a custom, self-insured health plan would benefit Metro and all Metro employees. Decisions about the price and scope of CalPERS' health plans are made on a statewide basis, in Sacramento. (I'm told that the state also pushes a disproportionate share of the cost onto local agencies.) It would be good to have local control and perhaps, to go in together with school districts, city governments and other local agencies. (Maybe someday we will live to see single-payer health care in the USA!)

Side note about junior employees: We have already seen how tradeoffs made by the Metro board, at the behest of the unions, can lead to layoffs among junior employees. Another problem is that the contracts load compensation in the later years of a person's career. As is typical in seniority-based union contracts, base wages and benefits (such as the value of the defined benefit pension plan) grow slowly. I believe in equal pay for work of equal value, so I would like to see compensation spread more evenly over a person's career. An employee would still earn the same total amount of money over 25 or 30 years, but the real money would start flowing much sooner. The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) contract is an example of this concept. Incidentally, a union member once got upset at me for using the word "junior". Junior is the opposite of senior, and seniority is a union concept. As you can see, I do not agree that "junior" means "less valuable".
 


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