A lot of things that can be said about the struggle for wages and benefits for drivers can be taken the wrong way. After all, there are several different audiences here and their imperatives are different. It’s also hopelessly muddled by both sides’ appeals to what’s “fair”, a loose term that will never yield a clear answer to what to do.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). The sole responsibility of the union is to its members, and they are absolutely justified in pushing for as large a share of revenues for labor as they can get.

Due to a desire to maximize service delivery and a vague preference for social equity, I’d prefer if they valued avoiding layoffs over preserving compensation, and focused more on improving conditions and opportunities for part-timers, rather than more overtime and prerogatives for the most senior employees. But it’s not my place to tell them what their priorities should be.

The larger danger is that labor inflexibility creates the narrative that Metro revenue increases will simply go into the pockets of drivers. It’s a narrative that anti-transit writers like Michael Ennis are willing to reinforce by cherry-picking misleading statistics and removing them from their explanatory context, and one that threatens future revenue measures that all transit stakeholders support, including the ATU.

Metro and King County. Conversely, the responsibility of managers and politicians is to deliver the most service for the lowest cost, which means clamping down on wages and benefits among other savings measures. That’s as it should be in the fundamentally adversarial process of collective bargaining.

There are two constraints on this, one legitimate and one not. The first is that you don’t want to antagonize your ambassadors to the public (drivers) so much that service suffers, or lose talent to other agencies.

The second, less good, reason is that politicians are fundamentally in the business of getting votes. Regrettably, sometimes it’s more plausible to do that by winning the support of the union electoral machine than by being a responsible steward of public funds. Not that (I repeat) I somehow expect unions to not use all the legal means at their disposal.

I want to emphasize that this a big-picture argument and I can’t assert that this is going on, or not going on, with the people in charge for either the last ATU contract or the next one. It’s just a common dynamic with public-sector unions.

Voters, taxpayers, and riders. So where does that leave the rest of us? Well, I think our interest is in making sure that politicians and their representatives at Metro respect their responsibilities as described above, to keep labor costs as low as possible.

The last time I made this point, there was a lot of pushback in the comments to the effect of “how would YOU like it.” First of all, as a private sector employee I have no doubt that if my senior managers thought they could cut the pay and benefits of people like me without repurcussions for performance and retention, they would do so in a heartbeat.

However, I think that retort really comes from a misunderstanding of for whom the statement is intended. The union is pursuing its interests of its members as they understand them, and that’s fine. But I’m not sure, as riders, that we should be “rooting for them”, to the small extent that matters, because they’ve selected objectives largely counter to our interests.

82 Replies to “Editorial: Metro, the ATU, and Riders”

  1. Many unions push for preserving jobs and hours for all their members, not only maximizing compensation for top seniority members. In times of shortage this can mean lower compensation in return for more jobs. It also demonstrates to the public taxpayer that they are participants with the taxpayer in solving the problem.

    The ATU position of no participation in preserving service and jobs not only risks public support for transit, it further risks the jobs of their members if Sound Transit shifts contracts for ST bus service to cheaper agencies like CT and PT.

      1. ST contracts with MT to operate a number of routes. Some that come to mind include 540, 544, 545, 550, 555, 556, 560 and 566. There may be more.

        In ST’s service implementation plan they noted that they could save around $1 million annually by having PT take over some of the routes currently operated by MT. If the ATU contracts make MT’s costs higher, MT & ATU may lose the work.

      2. ATU local 587 represents labor to some degree or another for the following:

        King County Metro King County, Washington
        First Transit King County, Washington
        Solid Ground King County, Washington
        Jefferson Transit Authority Jefferson County, Washington
        Clallam Transit System Clallam County, Washington
        Paratransit Services Clallam County, Washington

        Other locals represent employees in other area agencies. Local 758 represents employees at PT among other agencies (http://www.atu758.org/) while Local 1576 represents employees at CT and FirstTransit in Everett and Lakewood, etc.

        You can see a list of all the locals at http://www.atu.org/content/pages/pacific_rocky_mountain

        Carl’s point about the possibility of having work contracted to less expensive agencies has happened to me in a different industry. One company (United Airlines) used a vendor as a contractor, and that contractor had employees represented by IAM. After the vendor’s contract was up, United filled those positions with direct employees represented by a different local of the IAM, but with a lower payscale. While it was a net wash in terms of IAM represented union jobs, the “newly created positions” paid lower wages and United offered the employees who were losing their jobs the chance to apply and interview for the same positions, but with reset seniority at the lower payscale. At other locations, United selected other lower cost vendors as opposed to using direct employees.

        Anyhow, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar happen here especially given how ST contracts their service.

      3. I was under the impression that by law ST was required to contract through the local public transit agency for service in their area. Otherwise they’d just contract out the whole shebang to MV Transportation. I think what’s at issue is the fare sharing policy. If you’re going to accept transfers (and county assistance) then you pretty much have to play by the same rules.

    1. Or ST could look to a private operator. London uses private contractors to operate most/all of its bus services with Transport for London retaining oversight and planning responsibilities. Seems to be working pretty well.

      1. The initial cost of hiring a private operator would be difficult. I addressed some of the many points here.

        In a way, ST does have a private operator since the service that ST contracts to CT is further contracted to FT (and seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn’t we keep the PC on the QT? ‘Cause if it leaks to the VC he could end up MIA, and then we’d all be put on KP).
        CT owns the concrete that ST’s buses are parked on, but FT comes in and drives them off the lot.

      2. From what i heard at one time they tried to privatly contract out the 535, but that plan failed when they realized that they would be serving union built facilities with non union staff. Now, i keep hearing that they are going to build a base on the eastside, and with 4 or 5 good routes i’m sure you could find a union/private contractor to come in and operate that service. In my opinion i think they’d benefit overall from directly operating their own service. They would go through some growing pains, but they could share some of the resources of a partner agency (such as radio systems, and even garage and maintenace facilitys at first). From a service devlopement and operational standpoint i think it would help them a lot, as they could better use resources spread out across the regional to support their operations instead of agency a vs agency b type of thing. And of course they would also better understand the hardships involved in their operation.

    2. Good point. If the union pushes for preserving and expanding service as a way of preserving jobs, then the interests of the union and of people who take the bus and the train are on the *same* side. If it pushes for cutting service as a way of keeping wages up, then the interest of the union are on the *other* side.

      Obviously everyone wants public service workers to be well-enough paid and treated that they do their jobs, don’t ask passengers for bribes, don’t feel a strong incentive to steal from the government, etc., but you don’t seem to be in that territory in Seattle.

  2. ATU also has some level of responsibility to the safety of their members. The parts of the contract that discourage giving extra work to part-timers (by making nearly all extra work overtime) and instead pushing it toward senior full-timers means some operators are out on the road driving over 50 hours a week, while others are spending their time looking for second jobs. Both outcomes means the operators we have on the road will tend to be more fatigued.

    1. And ATU local 587 has got to recognize that there are a whole bunch of un- and under-employed taxpayers right now who would love to be sitting in a faux-Recaro seat all day with no boss breathing down their necks for the reported average salary of $61,000!


      (Yes, I know there’s more to driving a bus than that)

      Then there is the recent past actions of said local in defending this kind of behavior:


      (“Welcome back, Sister…!”??)

      Public Perception matters!

      1. Enacting tougher disciplinary rules requires offering the union more financial incentives.

        I would be interested to know if disciplinary rules have changed since this tragedy.

      2. That is a really disheartening transcript and horrible outcome. When an operator has so much conflict with customers and concerns about their driving, even the union ought to protect the integrity of the profession and public and other operators over a bad apple who is not in an appropriate job. To have it end in a fatality is unconscionable.

      3. Federal law says the union has to represent all members. It can’t pick and chose who it represents much like a defense lawyer. Now past a certain point for the grievance to continue it does have to be voted on by the membership but before that the union has to represent everyone no matter how stupid or wrong. It sounds like management needs to get their ducks in a row on some of these firings to make them stick… both sides are at fault in cases like this.

    2. The riding public and the agency should also want to give extra work to part-timers, rather than as overtime. It *should* be cheaper (time rather than time-and-a-half), and it is also safer. If it’s not cheaper, this means there’s a benefits problem.

      1. Sometimes it’s cheaper, sometimes it isn’t. Not sure about the “safer” thing as I don’t think that there are any statistics indicating that drivers who work a lot of overtime have more accidents.

      2. Well, I don’t know how much overtime you have to be doing before you start becoming a safety risk, but I’d expect more than 16 hours driving a day would certainly being a safety risk. Dunno if that’s happening yet, or if all the overtime is “just a little” overtime.

      3. “I’d expect more than 16 hours driving a day would certainly being a safety risk”

        It is and it’s already illegal/regulated. Metro is supposed to keep track of the amount of time a driver has been on the road without an 8 hour break. If we approach 16 hours we have to be pulled from the road. I’ve heard of it happening but being part time I’ve never had it happen to me.

  3. There are wasteful fiscal policies the ATU bargaining reps could point out, some of which are also safety issues:

    The fare system (the Free Ride Area and the anonymous paper transfers), which discourages the use of ORCA, decreases the ability to narrow down the list of suspects when an incident on the bus/train occurs.

    Privacy, in general, is a right, within the borders of one’s abode. Access to public transit is, to a large extent, a right, within certain rules (paying fare and behaving oneself on the bus). Privacy *on* the bus isn’t really a right. It is the right of the transit agency to be able to identify who is on the bus when a crime has been perpetrated.

    ORCA is a powerful tool for removing the anonymity of many riders on that bus, though it requires more work with some cards than others. Paper transfers and the RFA discourage the use of ORCA, and increase the number of anonymous riders on the bus, making the job of tracking down perpetrators much harder for the police.

    Yes, there will always be some cash payers, but if the number of cash payers is minimal, operators can pay a little more attention to remembering who they were, when, for example, a few teens ambush the operator and knock her unconscious, then run away. (And such incidents will probably happen much less often if the punks had to pay before getting on.)

    Routes that have a higher prevalence of cash payers can be targetted for on-board cameras and extra security presence.

    The message to those who would assault operators or attack fellow passengers must be clear: Try it and you will be caught, prosecuted, and punished.

    1. I think those are basically worthy reforms, but efficient use of public funds is ultimately the responsibility of Metro’s managers and their political masters, not the Union.

    2. The fare system … discourages the use of ORCA

      Except that inter-agency transfers are impossible without the card, which encourages high adoption.

      ORCA, decreases the ability to narrow down the list of suspects when an incident on the bus/train occurs.

      Even if I had an ORCA card, it could be unregistered, and that would provide law enforcement agencies just as much information about me as cash paying customers.

      the RFA discourage[s] the use of ORCA

      Well yeah, you don’t need it if the ride is free. Take away the RFA and ridership drops too.

      Paper transfers … discourage the use of ORCA

      You wanna tell a tourist that’s here for a day that they need to spend $5 on a card that won’t be active until tomorrow?

      And such incidents will probably happen much less often if the punks had to pay before getting on.

      Remember that operator that got knocked unconscious? It was after 7pm, so everybody paid before they got on.

      Routes that have a higher prevalence of cash payers can be targetted for on-board cameras and extra security presence.

      I don’t think that’s the target that Transit Police are looking for when assign offers or buses with DVRs.

      1. The fare system (the Free Ride Area and the anonymous paper transfers), which discourages the use of
        ORCA, decreases the ability to narrow down the list of suspects when an incident on the bus/train occurs.

        Even if I had an ORCA card, it could be unregistered, and that would provide law enforcement agencies just as much information about me as cash paying customers.

        Even an anonymous ORCA card bought with cash at a TVM could provide more information than a cash fare. The card ID could, for example, allow someone to track trips taken with the same card, or could be correlated to surveilance images at around the same time the card was bought or reloaded at a TVM. I’m not saying that it would be easy to do, just that it could be done.

      2. Except that inter-agency transfers are impossible without the card, which encourages high adoption.

        If it weren’t for Link I’d bet 90% of Metro riders would use another agency’s services less than once a year, and even with Link I suspect a majority of Metro’s riders ride Metro exclusively or almost exclusively. Given the other ways in which Metro’s paper transfers are better than ORCA transfers, I don’t think the interagency transfer perk does much to encourage adoption among Metro users.

        As for unregistered cards, I’m pretty sure those have transaction histories much the same as registered cards. Otherwise how would the system know how much is in the purse, how much to deduct at the end of the day, etc. Registration just allows you to access your history online, and to be able to prove Card X was yours if you lose it and want your funds transfered. But if the cops picked up a suspect and he had an ORCA card on him, I imagine they could subpoena the transaction history to see if that person had tapped onto a certain bus or train, if he was in the area, etc. If you wanted the same anonymity as cash users, I think you’d have to throw away your ORCA after each use (and don’t forget to wipe off those prints).

      3. Getting an ORCA card should be free and easy (bus drivers should give them out instead of transfers), and it should be beneficial to everyone (cheaper fares for people who use it). Then you’ll get high adoption.

    3. This sounds like big brother. ORCA knows when the card is used and who it’s registered to, but the driver doesn’t, and unless there’s only one person on the bus, how can you reconstruct which ORCA card was the culprit? People are already suspicious about ORCA: why aren’t they purging the transaction history after a few days? Turning Metro into a system where you have to show ID to ride the bus would piss people off even more. What other city anywhere does this?

      1. Paratransit riders have an exhaustively complete record of where and when they have ridden. If asked to show ID when they board, then they have to show ID.

        The data showing that a particular person (without naming the person) takes a particular route regularly, and when, is data that ought not be tossed in the wastebasket, if Metro is going to get better at planning.

    4. You should not be considered a suspect in any crime onboard a public transportation vehicle simply because you boarded said vehicle and can be tracked via use of your fare card. While we all want crimes to be quickly and promptly investigated and resolved, simply by using your farecard to board the coach should not render you a suspect. Brent, Show me your papers!

  4. An interesting, if not thorny and totally polarizing subject, for such a lovely weekend. Let me take a whack at this, coming from the perspective of a former AFL-CIO officer in California, a factory manager who broke a teamster strike in Houston, a retired part-time operator for Metro, and long time transit activist (co-founder of TCC). Keeping the discussion light, I’ll use a pie chart.
    Everyone here can agree that increasing public transits share of the travel pie is a good thing for our country and environment. Public transit is heavily subsidized by all those people that either can’t or won’t be using the service but a majority are willing to help pay for it.
    Transit is competing for market share of both travel mode choice, through the service it operates, and tax burden choice, by how they wisely use those dollars. Excelling in either or both ensure a growing mode shift, while poorly performing spells a decline in market share. So past experience and expectations of the electorate will define transits share of the big pies.
    New Pie: How will transit divide its pie. From the King Co. voters perspective, its X for Metro and Y for ST, currently at about 50/50. Then we get into splitting the pieces according to policy issues decided by elected officials. I won’t go down that road, but we eventually get down to Metro’s pie.
    Labor gets the biggest piece. How labor and management agree to split that piece up is part of a complex contract negotiation that dwells on the minutia of this word or that, as each change means a different size serving to either FT or PT, and by how much weight is given to seniority – allowing senior FT drivers to nearly double their retirement benefit if they work insane hours the last 5 years they drive (BTW, the vast majority of employees don’t have that perk).
    I guess all this comes down to how well the union and management understand their responsibilities to society, which is the ultimate maker of the pies.
    An efficient transit agency, providing top notch service, at costs that are at or below peer agency will surely succeed. Settling for less will evolve into a love/hate relationship with the very voters you are expecting to support you in future years.
    “Remember Transit(both sides of this discussion), overeating can be bad for your health!”

    1. A pie chart may not be the best description. Metro actually doles out bonuses to their management. Public employees should not receive bonuses when the county has to cut service, wages, or positions.
      How about a comparison of wages per person between Metro management and labor.

    1. Layoffs are a concern for ATU 587. This concern isn’t crystal clear. Metro has started rehiring and training new part-time operators within the past year. While everyone else in the County has been downsizing; Metro has been upsizing. Why should longtime transit employees take wage cuts to prevent people, whom should have never been hired, from retaining positions the county couldn’t afford in the first place.

  5. Having grown up in New York (Queens) where public transit used to be the one and only way for the majority of people to get to their jobs in Manhattan, the current push towards centralizing and making people dependent could eventually backfire as employees are held hostage to rising costs and lower service.

    The end result in New York was that business fled, and people moved to places where they could have the independence of the private car.

    1. Far be it from me to take umbrage…


      What does suburban flight have to do with union in-fighting?

      And as far as NYC is concerned, I’m convinced the cost of doing business there has more to do with greed and corruption than anything else.

      Unchecked greed is a prime mover of inflation.

    2. Uh, haven’t been there in quite a while but it’s news to me that business has fled Manhattan. But if that’s the case then no need for public transit in NY; everybody that still has a job can simple move close in and take advantage of all the giveaway real estate prices. Can I get an acre lot with a nice home for less than a million now days in Manhattan?

    3. People fled school desegregation, not transit unions. :) However, we can see in other countries the problems with transit unions who can strike. If they strike, you can’t get around anywhere.

    4. Just a clarification as somebody who lives in New York: Yes, people have fled in the past two years, in droves. The reasons for this are fairly obvious, namely that unemployment rates have remained quite high (last time I checked, it’s a good three percent higher than Seattle, and 1 percent higher than the Puget Sound in general) while real estate prices, after a brief dip, skyrocketed thanks to the endless stream of foreign buyers and wealthy post-grads who move here from around the world to live a semi-employed existence on their parents’ dime. The result being that NYC is, in my opinion, the most unlivable place in the Western World right now. A recent study showed that only 20% of the city’s population can actually afford to buy the median price of a home in the city (for a comparison, this rate is 57% in the Seattle area and 67% in Portland).

      But at the same time, better transit and density policies have NOT contributed to more centralization in NYC. Quite the opposite. When subway safety became a priority in the 1990s, the city actually became MORE

      1. … sorry, got cut off.

        What I was going to say was that the city actually got less centralized, not more. That’s why the wealthy and cultured are just as likely to live in Brooklyn as Manhattan, and why there’s a wine bar down the block from me in Queens. I see very little evidence at all that more transit in the Seattle area would centralize everything. In fact, if you look at the nascent vibrancy of downtown Everett or Renton, I’d say the opposite is the case.

    5. What independence? Average car commute has all the rugged freedom of a cow on its way through the stockyards. At the cow’s own expense. As for rising cost and lower service, only way you can avoid those in a place where the only way to get to work is to own a car is to drive without insurance and never fix your car.

      Reason rents are so high in cities is that the freedom people fled for forty years ago now only exists in cities with good public transit. Of course if your idea of freedom means being free to choose what make and model to get stuck in traffic in- nobody can help you.

      Mark Dublin

    6. What independence? In a situation where “the only way for the majority of people to get to their jobs” is a private car, the average driving day has all the rugged windswept freedom of a slow trip through the stockyards, at the cow’s own expense.

      Take a look around. The reason rents and condo prices are out of reach for a lot of us is that people by the hundreds of thousands are fleeing into new city neighborhoods with good light rail transit- the only places in the country where a life of real freedom and dignity can be had.

      Of course, if your idea of freedom is the choice of which car, insurance, or gasoline company to be robbed by, or what make and model to be stuck in traffic at the wheel of…can’t help you.

      Mark Dublin

  6. A blog post should be made about the idea of implementing a requirement similar to Colorado’s in regards to the Denver RTD.

    I have misgivings about such an idea, remembering the rather dytopic service provided by the contractors in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, when I lived there in the late 1990’s.

    That having been said, my riding experiences in Denver last fall have caused me to reconsider the idea, as, if anything, the contractors do a better job of providing service than the RTD does in-house.

    Contracting service out does not “deal with” the union question, but is mainly a way of expecting private companies through their non-bureaucratic methods to operate more efficiently than a government agency could ever hope to.

    Small agencies do not save a significant amount of money because they, by their size, can still run efficently because there is often little or no bureacracy. By the time an agency gets to be CT’s or Pierce Transit’s size, contracting starts to make sense, and by the time you get up to Metro’s size, it becomes a method of taking a lot of overhead cost out of the equation. This is because private companies can do things with property that government agencies cannot.

    There is a stipulation in ST2 that allows Sound Transit to award any or all of their contracts to private companies. The continued practice of contracting with transit agencies is purely on the basis of it being more efficient in current times. There was money (maybe there still is) budgeted in ST2 for Sound Transit to take all of their services in-house, and then seek contractors to operate them.

    My view on the whole ATU vs. Metro thing is thus: So long as it does not impact service to the public, the drivers should be given any and all benefits that they feel entitled to. Part-time operators as a group should no longer be treated as they were in the 1970’s. It is time to afford them the right to operate service that would otherwise go to FT operators in overtime.

    Brian Bradford
    Olympia, WA

    1. Stockholm, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark, much of England are all contracted out. Contracting can work to take a set amount of money and spread it further thus improving services for those in need and that should be the goal.

      1. One of the advantages of contracting out is that everything is monitized. You have little to no fixed assets and labor to show on your books. The drawback is, is that its all still there. And in realitiy you’re still paying for it. The contractor still has to have the equipment, he buys it, and it gets included in the cost of providing the service. Usually the labor rates are lower (i.e. lower wages), however the company still has to show a profit, and in the end any savings you could realize probally wind up getting tacked on as profit. The Contractee still has to perform his dutys to ensure that the contractor is living up to his end of the contract and thats a whole job or more in itself.

      2. In England the long-lifetime equipment is sometimes owned by the agency, and the contractor merely operates it. This is not unheard of either.

    2. You are under the impression the part-timers are the lowest seniority members. They are not. There are career part-timers at Metro. There are plenty of part-timers with more then 20 years under their belt. Part-timers can apply to be full-time operators. Some of my coworkers have spent 20 years as part-timers and recently went full time because they needed more hours. Many long time part-timers will never go full time.
      All part-timers have all Metro observed holidays off with pay. Full-timers only have holidays off if they pick Sundays as their day off. That pick takes full-time seniority.
      When one chooses to go from part-time to full time, one gives up weekends off and “calmer” work in exchange for the ability to work more hours and earn benefits (for most). It is a trade off.
      The county has continues to cut part time work down to shorter shifts to prevent part-timers qualifying for benefits. The benefits cost way more then the overtime.
      There are many things that need to be changed at Metro. Part-time operators are a valuable resource for Metro. They are essential for commuting hours. Trying to subvert a contract intended to guarantee a decent living wage for full-time drivers is not acceptable.

      1. Full-time drivers make a decent wage without overtime – and there will always be overtime for full time drivers.

        Many part-timers would not need to go full-time in order to receive more hours if the union contract would allow them to work outside the parameters that ensure that the lion’s share of open work goes to full-time drivers at the overtime rate.

        Over half of part time drivers already work enough hours to receive full benefits. It does not cost the County more to allow a part time driver who already has benefits to fill work at $28.00 an hour than to have a full time driver do the same work for more than $40.00 an hour.

        Linda Anderson, an ATU Board officer, cited here the recent County audit, saying that it recommended more overtime. What she does not say (and this dishonest spin is coming out of the union office more and more) is that they recommend more overtime instead of hiring more full time drivers; and that the audit also recommends allowing part-time drivers to do more “backfill” work such as filling in for sick drivers; parts of shifts of full time vacationing drivers; and other work that falls outside the union restrictions of no work after 8:30 p.m., no weekend work, etc.

    3. Just remember- every profit-making company’s first responsibility, by law, is to its stockholders. Where there’s a conflict- well, that’s what private companies hire contract lawyers for.

      Whatever’s the matter with your public transit system, you as a citizen can get active and get fixed. I don’t know about Thurston, but everybody in King County with a beef about either Metro Transit or Sound Transit can [it organized pressure on their King County Council person to deal with.

      ATU Local 587 has what, four thousand members? Hardly an unbreakable political lock on unjust power.

      Yeah, I guess you can show up at a shareholder’s meeting of a privatized system. I think Veolia holds its meetings in France. Bon voyage.

      Mark Dublin

  7. Labor and management should be working together to deliver a good product, while giving workers a reasonable standard of living. This is what I as a passenger want. Saying that management just wants to lower costs and unions just want to raise them, like two sides of a court case, absolves them of their joint responsibility to deliver quality to the public. It makes it sound like if management succeeded in achieving buses every 10 minutes at $13,200/ driver/year (minimum wage), or unions can achieve buses every two hours at $200,000/driver/year, everything would be OK. We see this with Boeing, where the company refuses to pay a portion of their profit windfall to employees and tries to break the union with disasterous outsourcing, and the union demands wages and benefits significantly higher than most other people get, and the workers vote to strike every time so that they can take an extra vacation (“fishing trip”). Neither of those has to do with delivering quality airplanes.

  8. Given the mostly stellar review of operator job performance (with an occasional bad apple) and the not-as-stellar review of management job performance, I believe the union has the right to ask what raises are scheduled for management positions this year.

    1. Thanks Brent. Up til this point in the conversation I have not heard this argument that I wanted to raise. People pretend like managers and middle managers are absolved of their responsibility to take less in wages and benefits (to the extent that drivers are expected by the public and Metro to). Its easy to pick on the workers while managers and Metro reap the profits while not sharing in potential losses (in the public sector).

  9. A lot of the comments went way off point on this article but worthy of further discussion or articles.

    I was talking with someone yesterday and I said to them that I have alway been pro-union and then I said “unions just go to far, sometime”. Your article gave a clear perspective of the roles of everyone involved when it comes to negotiation. The goal of the union is its members and not the riders. The Union wants more money, leaving Metro with one option to cut bus hours/routes. This hurts the working poor and the dwindling middle class. A union who does not have an economist on staff is very short sighted. I am not an economist but everyone can see the handwriting on the wall. Do a short contract like two years, this year status quo increase medical, because the greedy HMO want more because there day is coming to a close with national health care. The second year increase wages based on the national cost of living index increase medical if necessary (medical will become cheaper in two more years). In two years renegotiate using your economist statistics (ATU should publish an economist statistics that they use during every negotiating time so the public can see if there increases is justified).

  10. The union has not demanded more money.

    Metro (and the County) have options other than cutting service.

    The union does not have an economist on staff, but does consult a paid economist in the context of union negotiations.

  11. I disagree that “we” have different interests than transit unions.

    And just once I’d like to hear about management’s salaries and expenditures in posts that rail against unions.

    In a context where wealth inequality is the largest it’s been since the Guilded Age, I’m not sure you want to encourage more people to use transit by arguing the working class is getting paid too much. You won’t win a lot of converts that way.

    1. Every wage and benefit package should be on the table. We need to know if the pension fund or any other funds, such as for medical care, are fully funded or at least what is needed to cover future expenditures. With drivers and others retiring as early as 55 we can expect those retirees to consume a lot of future dollars. Are benefits 50% of wages? And what for the future?

    2. Metro needs to take a look at overall staffing, top to bottom. I think it is important to note that managment staff within Metro, City of Seattle, etc are not unionized and don’t have the same protections. If the county doesn’t want to give them a COLA or wants to lay them off they can do that.

      1. False. Many managers within Metro and City of Seattle *are* unionized. A top to bottom look is a good idea. Why isn’t anybody doing one? And even non-union employees have job protections.

  12. Drivers who retire early do not receive full retirement benefits until they reach age 65. Drivers pay (substantially) into their retirement accounts as well.

  13. There is a misconception that ATU 587 would rather see service cut than make any sacrifices. This is not true. ATU has a position on Metro’s funding problems and possible service cuts, clearly posted on its website for many months–587 took this position a year ago when ridership was still high and it has not changed:

    “We at Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 support our riders and the public at large who are all benefitting from mass transit, and we oppose cuts to service. Reducing service when ridership is at an all time high will force more cars onto gridlocked streets, costing millions in wasteful traffic delays, pollution, and decreased regional mobility. This is not a budget crisis, it is a funding crisis. An adequate, stable source for transit funding must be found.”

    The union’s position has not changed. Some confusion arose when union president, Paul Bachtel, stated that he would support limited cuts to inefficient routes –as Mike Lindblom pointed out in Paul’s defense, on this very blog. This was a reasonable response to calls for more efficiencies, and in light of the fact that funding has NOT been forthcoming, and facing some pretty devastating threats to the members he is legally bound to protect. ATU 587 has worked every year for decades to try to secure stable transit funds, lobbying the Legislature each year, and phone banking, educating, sign waving for transit initiatives.

    As regards part time work and full time work, this has been made an issue by a part timer who, as i understand it, is waiting to get on full time. He has to wait an unreasonably long time to go full time precisely BECAUSE Metro puts out an exceptionally large amount of its work part time, making it necessary for bus drivers to suffer through years of part time hours before making it to full time. Over 45% of Metro’s drivers are part time, while at no other transit agency in the country is the use of part time any where near as extensive. Most transits use about 15 to 20% part time. Furthermore, the audit stated that increasing the use of full time overtime would improve metro’s efficiency. In this debate, I’d encourage everyone to consider if denying workers full time jobs and forcing them to be part time in order maximize efficiency to taxpayers is something you’d put up with at your job. I’m sure that EVERY employer, including yours, would prefer to use nothing but part timers without benefits–is that what we all want in this society? Or just for public employees? Transit operators are already putting up with years of forced part time, do you really want to advocate for even more utilization of part time, causing them to have to wait even longer to become full time?

    Finally, while i have worked tirelessly myself for more transit funding and more service, at some point, if there is no political will to fund transit further, there may have to be service cuts. Suppose the union did accept wage or cola cuts?– the resulting savings (about $3 million)would not come anywhere remotely close to solving Metro’s problems (what is it–about $200 million?), or prevent Metro from cutting service. Even after wage concessions, we taxpayers would still have to face the music–either step up and fund a really good transit sytem, or we will have a less adequate one, no matter what the unions do.

    Arguing about what ATU should do is ultimately a time wasting distraction– meanwhile, Rome burns. I submit we SHOULD all get busy and start rowing in the same direction to fix the real problem, which is to resist the truly scary forces out there (and not just in the tea party) who say we don’t need transit, we don’t need government services in general, the less taxes and government services, the better the world will be. (Let them drive cars!) Alienating a good ally and advocate for transit–ATU–is this really the time to be doing that?

    1. “There is a misconception that ATU 587 would rather see service cut than make any sacrifices.”

      Paul Bachtel, the union President has said otherwise – publicly.

      Care to explain the discrepancy?

    2. “Some confusion arose when union president, Paul Bachtel, stated that he would support limited cuts to inefficient routes –as Mike Lindblom pointed out in Paul’s defense, on this very blog.”

      Bachtel didn’t say that, nor did Lindblom offer the defense that you described.

    3. ” the audit stated that increasing the use of full time overtime would improve metro’s efficiency. ”

      The audit also said that Metro’s efficiency would be increased by elminating many of the existing (union) restrictions on when part-timers can work additional hours, such as “backfill” (sick time replacements, weekends, etc.).

      Some of your statements are profoundly dishonest.

    4. “As regards part time work and full time work, this has been made an issue by a part timer who, as i understand it, is waiting to get on full time.”

      There are many part-time operators who resent being second-class citizens in their own union, and even those who wish to remain part-time who are interested and willing to pick up extra work from time to time who are unable to do so. Making this about one Operator smacks of scapegoating by union leadership (of which you are a member), and ignores the broader issues impacting both workers, and the taxpaying public.

      1. +1

        I do not begrudge Full time operators their overtime – *except* when there are part-time operators who have “NO WORK” as their ATL “assignment”.

        Every time I see that along with trippers assigned out to board operators on their RDO (Regular Day Off) at Overtime I just scratch my head. It doesn’t make sense to me as a tax payer. I’m financially secure enough to handle the “famine” phase of the ATL – More junior part time operators are not so fortunate.

    5. Benefits should not cause it to be far more expensive to hire full time than part time.

      A single-payer system like Medicare or the VA or Tricare, for all Americans, like they have in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, France, Germany, et cetera, would probably change the “benefits picture” enough so that this “full time vs. part time” contrast would go away, and it would just be a different number of hours.

  14. The union is doing their job, and Metro needs to negotiate properly with them.

    You don’t ask a construction contractor building a bridge (or deep-bore tunnel) to cut into their bottom line because the project is “for the public good”. Those contractors will charge as much as the market will bear. A labor contract is no different.

    If they are truly overpaid, then Metro is asleep at the negotiating table. But last time I checked, the average salary of a King County citizen was north of 150k/yr. Metro’s operators are, by any count, making much much less than the people in their service area.

    It’s probably reasonable to cut overtime; Metro should lean on the overtime issue HARD in negotiations. At the vast majority of employers these days, overtime is simply not allowed, full stop.

    I really wish I had a union job. I am terrible at advocating for myself, and would gladly pay dues to have someone else do it for me.

    1. But last time I checked, the average salary of a King County citizen was north of 150k/yr. Metro’s operators are, by any count, making much much less than the people in their service area.

      Where can I find a treasure map to that average salary point? Not so much the data, but how do I become “average” and more than double my salary?

      Just kidding. I really do want to see the data: Do the top very-small-percentage-of-total-population income earners in the county really skew the “average” income that high?

    2. According to the Census, King County’s per-capita income in 2008 inflation-adjusted dollars was 39,237. The median family income was 87,903, and the median household income was 69,161. All of these numbers were higher than their national counterparts.

  15. “Conversely, the responsibility of managers and politicians is to deliver the most service for the lowest cost, which means clamping down on wages and benefits among other savings measures. That’s as it should be in the fundamentally adversarial process of collective bargaining.”

    I think this is an entirely incorrect statement. The role of politicians and managers in the public sector is to provide a level of service among varied and competing services to best serve the public interest. Whether its in the public interest to drive for maximizing cost efficiency is debateable.

    You’re describing the public sector in private sector terms. The adversarial collective bargaining process is only as such because the private sector economic structure has forced the need for collective action to oppose corporate interests. In a public sector environment there is no need for an adversarial system unless the politicians and managers define the relationship in private sector terms. As they have in this situation here.

    There is a giant social benefit to having well paid citizens. They can spend more, invest more, etc. There is no utility to a salary structure that pressures reduced wages except to managers, owners, the wealthiest, etc. At a certain point you have to make the calculation about the economic benefit to come from one more employed person versus that salary spread across existing employees. That is the calculation representatives need to make, not a “maximize service for cost”. Cost may play a role at times, but it is not the bottom line mission of gov’t.

    As citizens the AMU and its members may elect to sacrifice for their neighbors and reduce cost so service levels can be maintained, but this state’s messed up tax structure is by no means the responsibility of the transit unions. I continue to be confused why this is expected. If Eyman’s newest abomination passes along with the tax repeals, will we continue to ask Unions to bail us out so we don’t have to face the reality that we aren’t willing to pay for services we demand?

    1. Brian,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response that gets at the main point of my argument.

      I think you’re conflating some points about the public and private sectors here. For a public sector agency, there is absolutely utility to a salary structure that pressures reduced wages: more public services for any given amount of revenue, service that disproportionately benefits poorer people.

      You can make a very strong case for more equalization of incomes in modern society. But I’d argue that the Metro budget is not the place to do that, nor are transit operators necessarily the most needy in that respect.

      In my self-conception of what this blog does, we are looking out for the interests of riders by trying to increase the overall amount of transit and increasing the quality of what is provided. That means increasing revenues and decreasing costs. In the former, the union is our ally, in the latter, generally an adversary.

      1. I won’t belabor the discussion too much here.

        – Yes, if we pay less we can potentially do more, until we get diminishing returns from a lack of skillsets, applicants, etc. But, that argument must end at some point. What is a reasonable salary for a public sector worker? Do we want the public sector to lead the race to lower compensation?

        – A more philosophical reaction: I think we’ve got to think outside the box of strict issue areas (I know its a transit blog and you discuss funding issues a lot so this is a more general response). Its an accelerating trend that is resulting in situations like this where the ATU and Transit supporters are being put in opposition to each other when they really should be aligned closely, pushing for greater and more stable funding bases. We’ve been effectively segmented and distracted to such a point that we have trouble forming a coherent, strategic picture for what we want gov’t to provide and how. As a result we fight amongst ourselves around the margins (when the gains are likely to be minimal from either side) and get nowhere while opponents of transit and structural change at the state level sit back and eat popcorn. At least for a few more weeks we’ll still be taxing their popcorn.

    2. Does the economy benefit more from having 200 well paid citizens or 300 employed citizens? I’ll answer by saying that’s not a judgment any one individual can make. An economy “benefits” from mutually beneficial transactions, not central-planning that picks and chooses winners.

      If the government does pick bus drivers as “winners,” then it’s also picking losers: the many bus drivers who cannot find work because their labor cost is now too high, the many taxpayers who get less services for their buck, and the bus riders who pay higher fares. A balance sheet is zero-sum, after-all.

      More broadly, even as a liberal I feel the government has no business picking and choosing which employees in which sectors of the economy deserve to be “well paid citizens.” Bus driver’s should have a wage that corresponds with their abilities, responsibilities, and opportunity cost, not a desire to fund a middle-class. Government cannot fund a middle-class, so it shouldn’t try to. If government cannot provide services without the desire to obtain social goals amongst those it directly employs, then the government should reduce its direct employment to avoid the social conflict. In this case, that means contracting out to private bus operations companies.

      1. John,

        I fundamentally disagree with your premise that we ought to seek a system that perpetuates winners and losers. Perhaps I’m a little naive, but as a good progressive I tend to think that there are opportunities for the economy to share in its benefits. The idea you raised about “mutually beneficial transactions” is the ideal is it not. Your idea about “zero-sum” is absolutely right if we continue to think about our economy as a system for winners and losers. The idea that I have to win at the expense of you seems to be a contortion of what we believe the “American Dream” is fundamentally about.

        Furthermore, the government shouldn’t fund a middle-class I agree. That is in my mind the responsibility of a well formulated economy. Not one with an “invisible hand” or that “trickles down” but one that creates opportunity and proportionately shares benefits.

        I hope that I’m not wrong to make these ideals a goal for our society. If I am, than fine… I’m wrong. I would love to see a transportation system that is treated by our society like a utility. If we’re serious about TOD and sustainability, my hunch is we’ll eventually move more in that direction.

  16. Martin, you’re right on for the most part. I especially concur to what I perceive is angst that, to union leaders, preserving jobs is secondary to maintaining the status quo. Where I disagree: the responsibility of managers is two-fold: to deliver the most service, but also while preserving their own jobs and benefits. That’s why you won’t hear any mention of their “longevity” pay increases. These are annual, across-the-board pay raises that, in the agencies and cities that have them, virtually everybody gets, performing or barely, until they hit the top of their range. Cajoling whether they have them or not is another matter, though. Further, salary surveys are done about every 3 years, which tend to shift the salary ranges upwards and keep their pay moving up faster than your typical professional staff in state jobs, including the educational sector. These folks tend to only get any COLA the state throws their way, sometimes the monies of a department being used as a salary pool to enable differing (“merit”) raises. Unionized staff therein, however, get both the longevity and, when granted, COLA pay increases. The difference is that, with unions, the COLA is contractual, with the others, it is discretionary. As for the responsibility of the politicians, IMHO it’s by and large to get re-elected in whatever manner that takes. Appeasing the unions in a key element of that, which is why the talk of longevity increases don’t cross their lips, either. When you hear from the unions that they’re “not keeping up with inflation,” ask them about their longevity increases, or increases based on miles driven in the case of drivers. As a private sector employee, ask yourself: are longevity pay increases, which you probably don’t receive, are a “normal operating expense” as the public sector folks have come to believe (at best, others therein know this, but don’t want you to!), or are they salary expenses? It behooves taxpayers to demand transparency as to what comprise the pay and benefit systems they’re funding, the latter which tends to include heavily if not totally-subsidized health care premiums for employee and family and sometimes car allowances for the upper echelons, are comprised of and why labor costs are going up as they are. If they’re okay with paying wage and benefit costs that far outpace inflation, or will they demand a pay and benefit system that’s more in line with the private sector and that flexes with the rate of their revenues, mainly sales taxes in case of Metro.

    1. ” ask them about their longevity increases, or increases based on miles driven in the case of drivers”

      You asked, as a driver, I’ll answer.

      After a driver has reached the top of the pay scale (6 years for part time, 3 years for full-time), there are no “longevity increases”, nor are there any “increases based on miles driven”. I’ve seen this blatantly false canard repeated elsewhere. It simply isn’t true. Doesn’t exist. No such thing.

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