The local transit operators union that service King County’s Metro has agreed to forgo raises next year, according to a tentative agreement posted on the ATU 587’s website. The ATU is promoting the following compromises:

  • As we reported last week, transit operators will forgo a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the first year of the contract, effectively freezing current wage levels. This will save about $7.8 million compared to the expiring contract.
  • In years 2 and 3 — beginning at the end of October in 2011 and 2012, respectively — bus drivers will get modest raises of 0.7% in year 2 and 0.6% on top of that in year 3.
  • In addition, drivers will receive a COLA based on local inflation in those out years. The COLA has no cap and just a 0% floor — so drivers can never face a wage decrease. This represents a major concession from the union, which had secured a 3% floor in the last contract
  • Metro will gain some “efficiencies,” the union document says, by allowing part-time operators to do more overtime work that is current given to full-time operators. Metro has long desired to pay part-time wages for some services, because a full-time overtime hour is much more costly than an additional part-time hour.

Overall, the proposed agreement looks like a good deal for Metro (and, thus, for taxpayers). Particularly important is the move toward giving part-time operators to get more work, which is a no-brainer savings for Metro and also seem more equitable because part-timers are often starved for hours. The rule change would allow part-time operators to take extra work that would put them beyond 8 hours in a given day, a change that Metro has been pushing for years, according to a part-time driver we spoke with.

The agreement means “fewer employees working more hours,” local ATU President Paul Bachtel told us in an email last night, “whether it be part-time working additional [trips] or full-time working overtime.” Bachtel said Metro’s part-time driver base would shrink due to “attrition,” which “means fewer benefit packages being purchased” — more savings for the transit agency facing a long-term budget crunch.

“The negotiated agreement is reflective of the recent audit findings, saves Metro money, provides more hours for both part and full-time employees,” Bachtel said.

Bus drivers don’t come away in a bad position: while a year’s inflation even if modest will give them a small real pay cut, the modest pay raises in later years may mitigate that or have drivers come out ahead. Metro operators are paid well compared to other agencies in the region, so it makes sense for their wage to mostly grow with just inflation.

Smaller changes in the proposed contract include the maintenance efficiencies — like buying able to buy some components instead of fabricating them — and the Union throwing its hat into the scheduling ring.

The proposal must be ratified by union members before entering effect. Spokespeople for King County Executive Dow Constantine wouldn’t comment to us, saying they have an agreement with the union to not discuss the contract until it’s approved by union members.

20 Replies to “Union Gets Future Raise, More Part-Time Hours”

      1. Its nothing personal about this particular union. Many unions have a reputation for being overly demanding on these kinds of issues. Many people have just come to expect those types of demands, and are pleased when things work out better than expected.

  1. Compared to other Local agencies, Metro bus drivers are not as well paid as has been reported in the press. Using the cost of living calculator at, I compared the hourly wage of Metro drivers ($28.47), to the other agencies in the region. When driver wages are adjusted for the COL in each of their respective cities, the results are surprising. Spokane drivers make the Seattle equivalent of $35.58, Everett drivers, the equivalent of $34.83, Tacoma drivers, $33.83, Vancouver drivers, $33.68, Lynnwood drivers, $29.50, and Bellingham drivers $29.04. The higher housing costs in Seattle are a prime factor in the difference.
    A document reprinted in the Seattle Times article “Cash-strapped Metro targets drivers’ pay” (9/7/2010) listed Seattle drivers as third highest paid out of 30 agencies cited. If that list had been adjusted for the Cost of Living in those cities, Metro drivers would have dropped to eighteenth, just one penny per hour ahead of Atlanta operators.

    1. I like your comment because it points out that a dollar in Seattle is different from a dollar in Portland. I’m sort of left a little skeptical that this data should inform our arguments too strongly.

      1) Not all King County bus drivers live in Seattle. Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, and Lynnwood are all the same metro area and a Metro driver could live in any of these places. He could also live in much cheaper areas.

      2) Apparently this is the formula used to determine the cost of living: “The total of all the cost of living categories weighted subjectively as follows: housing (30%), food and groceries (15%), transportation (10%), utilities (6%), health care (7%), and miscellaneous expenses such as clothing, services, and entertainment (32%). State and local taxes are not included in any category. Updated:06/10” I recognize transportation being fixed at 10% will necessarily hurt urban areas as well as the apparent bias toward home ownership.

      3) A better metric might be the federal CPI to compare King County wages to those in other Metro areas.

      3) If drivers in Spokane make the local equivalent of $75,000 a year, I think they are very highly paid.

      4) This is moving away from the data in my first post that I linked to above, but I think the only way to determine whether someone is adequately compensated is whether they remain at their job. Given that most full-time Metro drivers have been driving for many years (which we know since most have reached the top wage), …

      5) If all Metro drivers could go to Community Transit to get a better wage, why don’t they? Certainly because there are too few Community Transit jobs. But wouldn’t the mere interest naturally lower the wage that Community Transit has to offer? The answer maybe should be yes but in the real world is no. I wonder if the concept of opportunity cost — which is really what wage comparisons are trying to do — even works when the demand for certain jobs is amplified by collective bargaining.

      1. Mr. Jensen, I’m not sure whether we’ve ever met in person, so I’ve got no idea of your age or life experience. But whatever permits you to put your name to a statement like ..” I think the only way to determine whether someone is adequately compensated is whether they remain at their job,” it has to include either a short memory, zero knowledge of industrial history, or very few working years- coupled with a huge amount of luck.

        Up in Discovery Park, there’s a placard describing how Fort Lawton came about. Seems the last time we had real free-market economics, the local business community screamed for Federal troops to counter the efforts of working people who had some problems with your metric.

        People the laziest of whom could have worked the butts off anybody on currently on staff at the Seattle Transit Blog on their worst day on the job decided in large numbers that they liked their work just fine, but that it was past time they started earning enough they could live like human beings doing it.

        And were willing to take the chance of getting clubbed to death or shot for their position. And furthermore, a lot of them were ready and able to shoot back. Read the Presser Case- some German immigrants thought the Second Amendment guaranteed them the right to use the combat skills they’d learned in the 1848 rebellion to make their case to the local HR office. That’s when the individual right to Keep and Bear went away. Good thing the Court just gave it back.

        Not to disparage any accomplishment or quality of yours, John. My own experience, reading, and conversations with my elders lead me to other conclusions. But please give credit where it’s due: even if you could outwork and outmanage Andrew Carnegie- who could also dispatch trains when he was a teenager- you’d still owe everything decent you’ve got to people who died disputing your measurement.

        Mark Dublin
        Former Metro Transit Full-Time Operator 2495

      2. currently on staff at the Seattle Transit Blog

        Where do I apply for one of those high paid positions?

      3. Mark, we have met a few times, and my comment was regarding contemporary issues, not historical issues. The workers that public sector unions represent have nothing in common with the exploited and poorly-treated workers from the industrial revolution.

      4. John, don’t be so certain that the workers of today have so little in common with the exploited workers of the industrial revolution.

        Maybe those represented by public sector unions have little in common. But given that private sector employees in this country have been illegally locked in, in violation of fire codes, to burn to death…. in the last decade…. at multiple different employers… perhaps public sector workers do have some reason to fear that they *will* descend to such a state if they aren’t careful.

  2. So what’s the story with benefits? Health care costs can rise as much as 20% a year. Retirement? And what benefits do part time drivers get? Typically if you work more than 20 hours per week you become eligible for employer funded medical. Do PT drivers already get medical? If not then will the extra hours push them into that catagory. Not saying it’s good/bad one way or the other but wages are but a small part of the cost of hiring an employee and benefits, especially jobs that fund a pension plan are a huge factor.

    1. Benefits negotiations take place seperately from the main contract and on a different timed cycle.

  3. John,
    Those are some good rational arguments. I had to use the ‘Bestplaces’ COL calculator to make the cities comparison, because according to the city budget office’s web page, (” “For the Seattle area, the BLS computes both the CPI-U and the CPI-W for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton, Washington, metropolitan area, which includes Island, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston Counties. In 2000, this area was home to 3.6 million people, which is 60 percent of the state’s total population”.

    Because the Federal CPI is a conglomerate, it isn’t useful for comparing Seattle’s COL to other cities, such as Tacoma, because they’re part of the calculation already. Also, by encompassing an area that includes 60% of the States population, (at least in 2000), the figure is an average, and likely does not reflect the higher cost of goods in individual cities like Seattle or Bellevue, for example. Your suggestion that Metro drivers might be living where housing is cheaper could certainly be true. Still, the likely reason drivers don’t switch from CT to Metro and vice versa, is that most CT drivers live in Snohomish County, and most, but not all, Metro drivers do live in King County.

    Personally, I wouldn’t consider $75k for driving a bus as highly paid. According to the Seattle Times, 31% of all households in King County make $100,000 or more. In my opinion, if the middle class is going to do more than merely survive, but rather thrive, then that figure needs to climb past 60%.

  4. Bernie, and John:

    I never said anybody on STB staff was overpaid- I frankly didn’t know you were paid at all. Based on your STB’s contribution to public transit around Seattle, you all deserve great pay and benefits. I don’t think the 2008 vote would have passed without you.

    I should have kept my temper and just said this: “The only reason anybody anybody on STB staff can support John’s philosophy of wages in this generation is that in generations past, so many working people- including transit workers- died fighting to oppose it.”

    That’s all.

    Mark Dublin

  5. As Anc wrote, on the face of it, it seems like a good deal all around. However, in many transits, drivers get a pay increase for miles driven as well as a COLA, and the former is a larger percentage than the latter. If so, Metros expenses are still rising faster than their primary source of revenues, sales taxes, which are presently flat. This is, however, an excellent start, if it is not considered a temporary thing. The ultimate would be wages that are tied to the growth of revenues, such as 80% of sales tax growth goes back to employees in the form of wage/salary and benefit increases, with excess over 70% banked for a rainy day. However, its going to be quite some time if ever before even 100% of sales tax growth can cover the programmed-in wage/salary increases if there are pay increases for miles driven embedded in the unions contractsand then theres the rapid increase in health care costs, and its my understanding there are no premiums charged for employee or family, meaning that the agency/taxpayer is absorbing that inflation, too. Making the contract public would settle the questions.

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