Mike Lindblom and Heidi Groover report ($) that King County Executive Dow Constantine wants to reopen February’s collective bargaining agreement that grants ATU-587 raises of 3% the next two years and 4% in 2022-23.

The Union has good reason to consider it. With revenues collapsing and service cuts coming in September, layoffs appear inevitable. Lower pay would mean more service, and thus more jobs. This would incidentally be better for riders.

Both a pay freeze and layoffs are, of course, at the expense of people so recently hailed as heroes for risking themselves in the pandemic, with two fatalities and numerous drivers infected. ATU 587 argues, correctly, that if Metro exhausts its rainy day fund, CARES Act funding, and Seattle passes a TBD extension, it can kick the can down the road past the end of the CBA.

That might store up trouble for later. But stalling actually worked in the great recession, when various minor efficiencies (and a steep fare increase) more or less kept service cuts at bay until the accelerating economy made them unnecessary.

37 Replies to “Metro asks to defer driver raises”

  1. If we hypothetically suppose that rejecting the proposal means the upper 90% of drivers, in seniority, get their raises, while bottom 10% get paid off, the natural result of the union vote would be 10% in favor, 90% opposed, assuming that each member votes in their rational self-interest.

    If the resultant layoffs from rejecting the proposal were to be done at random vs. by seniority, the vote would likely go very differently, as it is probably not worth a 10% risk of getting laid off in exchange for a 4% raise. But, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that the CBA requires the junior drivers to be the first target of any layoff (which also requires more layoffs to save a given amount of money, since the senior drivers remaining likely get paid more).

    1. The contract between Metro and 587 requires Part-time drivers to be laid off first before any Full-time drivers are laid off. This is done in reverse order of seniority. Metro also has the option once anyone is laid off (now is the case many PT drivers received notice of layoff this week) to reduce FT hours to 5 hrs/day instead of the currently guaranteed 8hr/day. We should also keep in mind that 587 represents many classifications, not just drivers, mechanics and other support staff will be affected as well.

      Additionally, Metro and 587 have come to an agreement on an early retirement plan in the hopes that the many drivers, supervisors, mechanics, etc. who are able to retire will in order to preserve jobs for those who are not.

      Randomly laying people off isn’t a thing any union will agree to… it’s not even worth entertaining.

      1. I did not intend to seriously suggest applying layoffs randomly, and I would not blame the union at all for never accepting such a scheme. I mentioned it mostly in a “what if” context.

        That said, it is still true that laying off the lower-paid drivers first does mean that more drivers in total do need to be laid off to meet any given budgetary constraint.

  2. “ATU 587 argues, correctly, that if Metro exhausts its rainy day fund, CARES Act funding, and Seattle passes a TBD extension, it can kick the can down the road past the end of the CBA.”

    At least 2 drivers and 2 other 587 represented support staff have died from covid exposure. Numerous others have taken ill (Metro won’t say how many). I’ve emailed the county council urging them to support the agreement the County made with workers who are risking their lives, daily, to keep the county moving. How can we ask these workers to forgo cost of living adjustments that the county already agreed to? Is management taking a pay cut?

    Part of supporting transit is supporting the people who make transit function. I hope I’m not the only one reading this article who takes the time to send a letter of support to the county council. They need to use the rainy day fund… if it’s not raining now then I don’t know what rain is.

  3. We really do need to see a figure for the service cost of one minute of a vehicle standing still when it should be moving. Leading to some investigation as to how much money transit can truly save with some investment in personnel training.

    From recent really painful experience, Sound Transit seems to be putting people on its customer service phones whose own work-lives are being made miserable by how little information they themselves are being given. I’ve never seen workers whose own qualities deserve so much better. Local 587, remedy is in your job description.

    Luckily, there’s some Labor precedent. In the early 1980’s, Metro Transit needed to start an electric rail subway with buses, an effort with which there was very little available experience anywhere.

    ATU Local 587 quickly got together with management and the governing board to enlist the combined work-knowledge of a dozen first-line operating personnel, for the first three critical years of the project. The Joint Union-Management Employee Advisory Committee. Whose reinstatement the local should now make a condition of their agreement to a reduction in wages.

    And the years have also provided additional resource. The Seattle Transit Blog can become literally priceless by devoting one posting a week to input from operating personnel at all levels, including fare inspectors and security. COVID-proof, gang, COVID-proof! Remind me, do blogs get Pulitzers?

    Mark Dublin

      1. The ones that do, they may be few. But they’ve got the experience and the position to take it under advisement.

        https://www.historylink.org/file/2700

        The ones that don’t, since both voting age and minimum age for a legislator are both 18, they can start learning first-hand when they start getting elected this fall. Taking advantage of Mother Nature’s own cure for seniority.

        But right this minute you’ve got the easiest way in the world to start understanding me perfectly.

        https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/about/jobs/drive-for-metro/part-time.aspx

        https://recruiting.ultipro.com/SOU1036SOUND/JobBoard/dcc5dbea-875e-4cd1-bfd2-8e046cecc54f/?q=&o=postedDateDesc

        In a week or less, you’ll be just the type of contributor I want STB to provide with a comment slot every week.

        Mark Dublin

  4. I know that this is all complicated and delicate to balance when faced with a budget shortage, but I can say that as a Metro operator who has generally loved my job over the past seven years, that it really really sucks right now. We have gotten very little coherent guidance or basic information from Metro on how to protect ourselves from covid (e.g., drive with windows open, or A/C, heat, none, all?), and a ridership that has also received weak and mixed messaging from Metro, media, public health experts, and politicians, which has manifested in way too many people wearing masks ON THEIR NECKS while in my mobile petri dish of a workplace.
    All this is to say that the level of existential anxiety and stress on the job is high, and I think we deserve at the very least a cost of living increase (which is what this is– not a raise), and our least senior members deserve to keep their jobs. While it makes sense for Metro to make some service cuts, but from funding and low-ridership perspectives, it also is necessary to add service on high-density, high-poverty routes, where social distancing is not possible at current service levels.

    1. Many grocery store workers got hazard pay. Something Metro workers did not get and now the county is trying to deny your small cost of living raises. It’s absurd.

      Also, the title of this post is patently false. Metro isn’t offering to defer anything they want to cancel cost of living adjustments. I’ve seen nothing that says they’re looking to add these promised increases in at a later date which is what one would infer from the term “defer.”

      1. That is a very good point, and if Metro were a rich corporation, not driving drivers cost of living increases and hazard pay would be unacceptable.

        The problem is, Metro is a public agency which operates on a finite budget, so you have to make choice. If each driver gets paid more, that means you can’t afford to pay as many of them. Moral principles aside, you can’t wish fiscal realities away.

    2. What guidance have you been given regarding passing up passengers for reasons other than the bus being full?

      Are you allowed to use the “Bus Full” sign even when it is mostly empty?

      Are you allowed to pass up passengers who don’t appear to have a mask at all?

      Are you allowed to pass up passengers who are just wearing their mask on their chin/neck?

      Are you allowed to stop, keep the rear doors closed, and yell out at the person that they need to be wearing a mask over their nose and mouth the entire time they are on board?

      Has Metro considered providing you with a supply of masks to hand out?

      1. “Full coach” guidelines are to begin passing up riders if there are 12+ passengers on board a 40′ bus or 18+ passengers on a 60′ bus. This only means changing the sign. If extra people board when we are dropping off, so be it.
        We are not allowed to pass up people for not wearing a mask (or wearing it on a pointless part of the body), nor are we allowed to enforce this. I don’t totally disagree with this. I imagine it’s for a similar reason why Metro instructs us not to directly enforce the fare: it risks escalating a conflict.

        I’m not aware of any discussion of Metro offering masks to hand out to riders. They or other public agencies absolutely should be doing this, and providing better education to the public about how/when/why to wear masks. The message has been jumbled, to say the least, over the course of this pandemic.

  5. The first thing should be deferring all capital investment possible. I couldn’t find anything current on the plan to replace perfectly good hybrid buses with battery electric. The cost of diesel is way down and is likely to stay that way until ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels.

    I don’t see how you can try to back out of a contract. 3-4% is not much considering the cost of housing in King County. And the fact food prices have gone up.

    Institute a hiring freeze for all but essential personnel. Does Metro really need an Executive Assistant ($73,569.60 – $93,246.40 Annually ) for the rail division or an HR Manager ( $102,523.20 – $129,958.40 Annually) right now? There’s currently two other six figure salary jobs posted with the Rail Division. To the extent possible give laid off workers priority on any other jobs within County government.

    1. Laying off a couple of 6-figure administrative figures may look good symbolically, but it’s irrelevant in the context of a ~$billion annual operating budget. Administrators also perform a function, and it is impossible for any large organization to operate without them.

      That said, deferring the electrification of buses to keep the buses we already have on the road does make sense.

      1. I wasn’t even asking to trim administrative overhead in proportion to the reduction in service. But when operations are being scaled back does it make sense to be hiring additional overhead? Metro is also advertising for two drug and alcohol testing technicians. I’m pretty sure contracting testing to a private clinic is more cost effective.

  6. TRUsam, would you be willing to do what I’m suggesting and order your Union leadership to demand that your employer grant you the formal advisory participation that my fellow members and I were given in return for our support of an untried rail project?

    Union sister of mine called me a pro-Management stooge for threatening her bus driving job with trains, which was by no means a minority opinion. Welll…wonder how the vote would go, like, tomorrow…?

    Because Leadership isn’t sprayed on like hand sanitizer. Somebody has to pick it up like the tool it is and start fixing things with it. Swedish American Industrial Workers of the World activist Joel Emmanuel Haglund, pen name Joe Hill, really did get executed on a trumped up murder charge in Salt Lake City.

    Some also say Utah Law was anti-pun. But “Workers of the World Arise, You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chairs!”….needs to be a plaque on his statue in that park across from the Ballard Library, main entrance to the Link train to West Seattle.

    Mark Dublin

  7. asdf2, over the couple of decades l lived with one of Metro’s heaviest routes going by literally out my window, any chance those trolleywires saved my lungs enough damage to significantly lower my co-pays? BTW, Are we talking wire or battery?

    And Bernie, is “Cost Effective” really the long way to say “Cheaper?” As both a lifelong passenger and a long-time transitworker in a Safety Sensitive job, my safety and my reputation have always requires that drug and alcohol testing be in the most skilled and conscientious hands.

    Not the most overworked, the least trained, and the worst paid. Whose own drug tests are routinely conducted by providers of similar quality.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Are we talking wire or battery?
      Battery. I was asking about the program to aggressively replace hybrid buses before their usual end of service with new battery only coaches. The EVs are nice but the technology is still improving. I think I did read something a while back about Metro scaling back on the time frame but can’t find reference to it.

      If it comes down to people losing service and drivers losing their job I’d think you’d be for replacing buses on the standard timeline vs junking them for symbolism. Add to that, buses aren’t going to be racking up the same number of hours with the pending service reductions which speaks all the more to pushing out the replacement schedule.

      1. Bernie, I don’t consider air quality “symbolism.” And major thrust of my comments today is that I think measures like improved training and better leadership can save enough wasted money to make up for exactly such measures without sacrifice.

        Like the late Joe Hill commented at rather serious personal cost: “Nothing to lose but our chairs.”

        Mark Dublin

  8. Has Dow Constantine volunteered to take a pay cut or any of his high paid staff or layoff any of his staff. Don’t think so but instead he goes after the people who have kept Metro running through the most difficult period of time with the drivers putting their health at risk.

  9. A management paycut would be fiscally irrelavent but symbolically relevant.

    Regarding laying off higher seniority drivers, it would not happen. Everything is based on seniority at metro. Part of the value proposition of the job is that if you spend your early years paying dues, some benefits will someday come to you; better (safer) work, better pay, better hours.

    Im also an operator

    1. If a driver is laid off does he/she keep their seniority when rehired or do they come back day one automatically at the bottom of the totem pole. Same question if they transfer to a non-driving job (say bus cleaner) and then go back to driving. I know with the school district I drove for that was the case. Long time drivers would transfer to the office and if they went back to driving they lost all their seniority. Are the rules different if you are placed in a “shared work” situation? That is, can two drivers “share” a route where one drives for two weeks while the other collects unemployment and then switch off.

      Islee furloughed his staff one day a week. Brilliant since it means they collect the $600 bonus from the feds because they lost work due to the corona virus.

      1. We have not had layoffs since I’ve been there (22 years) but I believe you would keep your seniority as you would be rehired in order of higher seniority. Also drivers keep their seniority when they temporarily leave employment for other reasons. At this time they keep it when they change classifications between part-time and full so yes, coming back from employment elsewhere in King County would preserve their spot on the list.

      2. Seems like shared work and offering other jobs within the county is the best deal for both the public and Metro drivers. As I read the proposal to renege on cost of living increases is being considered because “even though there was a deal” the county hadn’t finalized it. That’s BS as far as I’m concerned but if they want to renegotiate there has to be some tangible immediate benefits for drivers. Symbolism or not, a management cut should be proportional.

        We have not had layoffs since I’ve been there (22 years)

        That’s simply amazing. Tells me drivers are not over paid. 2009 was hard but there wasn’t the huge drop in ridership this crises has brought and I don’t think the revenue side was impacted as badly. The big hit in 2009 was property values. Certainly sales tax revenues were down but not as much as they are now and unemployment levels haven’t been seen like this since the Great Depression.

    2. A management paycut would be fiscally irrelavent but symbolically relevant.
      It would be fiscally relevant to every driver that was able to keep their job due to a reduction in overhead. There’s a lot less hardship in going from $140,000/yr to $100,000/yr than there is going from $40,000/yr to zero.

  10. Regarding the link to various minor efficiencies I thought there was an error but indeed Kurt Triplett was Interim County Executive in 2009. Didn’t a good deal of credit belonged to Kevin Desmond; not so?

    Where are the management heroes now? Dow Constantine has proposed additional water taxi service to West Seattle (where does he live?). That’s kind of spendy service in times of austerity. It’s also a contracted service vs keeping Metro drivers employed. But as I’ve said in other posts there should be a strong incentive for Argosy to provide service at cost (or below) just to “stay afloat” through the pandemic.

  11. A couple of points from the Times link:
    Transit workers aren’t allowed to strike, so an impasse would go to arbitration.
    How common is it nationally for transit workers not being allowed to strike?

    Proposed 2019-20 wage rates, for experienced workers, include … $35.43 for bus and rail operators
    Is that a “top” wage? What is the median hourly rate and what’s the starting wage? $73k is certainly a livable wage even in Seattle. But I don’t believe that’s what the “average” bus driver is taking home.

    It mentions that at least 22 transit workers have caught COVID-19
    Dukes was shut down by the State for less than this. Metro’s web sites says, “Wearing a mask or face covering is required.” Yet there is a ubiquitous failure of management to follow their own policies. In fact I can’t think of any organization in the State that has a more cavalier attitude regarding the safety of their employees and the public.

    1. I was riding the 250 today. All the passengers were wearing masks, but the driver wasn’t. Is Metro still not providing it’s bus drivers with face masks? If not, why not?

      1. Someone in ATU Local 587: If this driver was at the wheel of a bus I was a passenger on, would I be violating labor solidarity by immediately calling Customer Services, giving route number, coach number, time, location, and direction of travel and suggesting they be met on the road by supervision and provided with a mask?

        Mark Dublin

      2. Really good to hear all passengers were wearing masks. This seems to be regional. I was at the Totem Lk FM and the Safeway on Rose Hill today. At both stores I saw all employees wearing masks (indoors) and at both locations there was one customer not wearing a mask. I did see masks being used that don’t really help. Any mask with a valve doesn’t work. I have a mask I bought for putting down a noxious floor sealing chemical. It works great for filtering out what’s being breathed in but masks with valves do nothing to control what’s being breathed out. I’m sure this is an educational issue as the valved masked tend be rated as “better”.

  12. If the raise deferral came to a vote of Union members, I think most members would vote their pocketbook.

  13. And BTW, Fred, A joy, and Sam, think I’ve discovered that the problem isn’t language. In addition to being extremely accurate and informative, Walt Crowley’s essay is an easy pleasure to read.

    And also, though it’s been awhile since training, whatever cultural pressures and tensions, I can’t believe that, rail or bus, Metro and Sound Transit instructors don’t teach in colloquial ST-area English. Which will rapidly enable you to deliver, at least once a week, a cogent and comprehensible comment relating your own work experiences, and what you think you need to get your job done better.

    But for background, the problem wasn’t a matter of language, but print date on the hardcover book. When work began on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, both the Twin Towers and the Soviet Union were still standing. But the endemic interagency quarrels over fare revenue- certain punitive ORCA Card policy has Bosnia written all over it.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I don’t mean to offend with my comment on your discourse. I do think it is in part a linguistic issue though. When I do understand you, I find that you’ve omitted a key noun, participle, conjunction, etc.

      I want to understand you. You clearly have a valuable inside perspective that others and I do not. I value your input. It is just frequently impossible for me to parse.

      1. A Joy, I can’t express to you how far I am from being offended. I thank you from the bottom of my heart taking the time to point out some serious and increasing problems with my communications on matters precious to me.

        Present predicament of our whole country’s school system has a shining silver lining: Whole idea of lessons is about thirty years out of date. The experience I lucked into, chief take-away is how many millions ($) have always had to be cross-fingered and “winged”.

        But also how much about the difference between right and wrong Evolution or the Creator, Who Scripturally has always had the right to contract out life-and-death matters to a Goddess- assigns to our sense of smell.

        Generational or DNA, I need and editor, a loud gavel, and since this is a transit blog, either Securitas or KCM when my time’s up. Thanks for volunteering to help out.

        Mark Dublin

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