!!!  PRIORITY ONE  !!!



Oh wait, they already know.

This really isn’t as much of a shocking new paradigm as the Oregonian would like it to be. Any moderately bright middle schooler could do the math for you. Remember grade school math word problems? “If a bus driver at the top of the pay scale makes $25.13 per hour for the first 8 hours, and then 1.5x that an hour for every hour after the first 8, and they work 9 hours a day, or 10, or more, how much money do they make?” The pay scales have been posted on TriMet’s website for a long time now – this isn’t news, nor is the concept of overtime.

The operators who are making well above the average are the ones willing to take every minute of overtime offered, working every holiday, working more than 8hrs/day, and working as many days off as allowed (operators can’t work more than 13 days in a row). And operators aren’t the ones who write the runs – if there are runs that pay 10, 11 hours a day, ultimately someone is going to sign them (usually the highest seniority people, but not always). Why should the operators who sign runs written with a lot of overtime have to apologize for it?

Why is there so much overtime available anyway?

Well, it’s kind of funny.  See, we’ve had this hiring freeze due to budget problems…

PORTLAND — TriMet officials said declining payroll tax revenues and pressure to crunch the budget will likely cause yet another round of route reductions and another increase in fares as well.

TriMet officials said they need to cut the budget for the next fiscal year by $27 million. Proposed changes include a 5-percent administrative cut, a salary and hiring freeze, reductions to bus and MAX service and a five-cent fare increase.

I forget exactly when the hiring freeze started – I would have guessed in 2009, but I did some searching and found this KGW news article on the hiring freeze dated February 10th of this year. Okay, let’s start with that date. Now here’s why this is funny – these are the job openings that have been posted at TriMet since February 10, 2010 (and the associated salary range for each, not including benefits):

  • Manager, Benefits; $72,776.00 – $109,165.00
  • Senior Accountant – Treasury & Cash Management; $51,652.00 – $77,479.00
  • General Manager (heh); $215,000
  • Field Outreach & Community Relations Representative; $12.56-$17.58/hr
  • Deputy General Counsel – Real Estate; $93,360.00 – $140,038.00
  • Real Property Specialist; $56,340.00 – $84,509.00
  • Executive Director Capital Projects (after Neil transferred to General Manager); actually I don’t know what this compensation range is, but according to that list of salaries, Neil made $184,690.92 so we’ll go with that.
  • Contracts Administrator III; $56,340.00 – $84,509.00
  • Director Transportation Operations; $85,986.00 – $128,977.00
  • Systems Engineer II-Network; $72,776.00 – $109,165.00
  • Service Worker; $15.78 – $21.04/hr
  • Director Safety & Security; $85,986.00 – $128,977.00
  • Administrator, MTP Contracts; $22.75 – $34.12/hr
  • Manager, Facilities Systems; $72,776.00 – $109,165.00
  • Receptionist; $12.56 – $17.58/hr
  • Legal Assistant; $19.05 – $28.57/hr
  • Coordinator, Operations Services; $20.83 – $31.24/hr
  • Facilities Specialist; $19.05 – $28.57/hr
  • Maintenance Supervisor; $27.09 – $40.63/hr
  • Accounting Manager; $72,776.00 – $109,165.00

Heckuva hiring freeze there…

Not counting the hourly jobs (because I don’t feel like doing the math) or the Executive Director of Capital projects (because I don’t have the range), that’s a total range from $935,768 on the low end to $1,331,514 on the high end of salaries of jobs posted at TriMet during this supposed “hiring freeze”.

You know what’s missing from that list? Bus operators. I don’t remember offhand the last time minirunners (part time bus operators) were hired, but I’d guess it was around the end of 2008. We have the money for all those other jobs, but no money to hire bus operators – in fact, bus operators were asked to take voluntary unpaid leaves of absence!

But buses still have to go out even when we’re short on operators – spend about 5 minutes on Twitter when a bus doesn’t show up to see how much people love it when their bus is a no-show. If we’re not hiring more operators to fill out the ranks, the only alternative is to have operators work overtime to keep things moving. Many operators are willing to take on overtime because hey, if you can do the work, it needs to get done, and you can make time and a half on it? Why wouldn’t you take it? So a lot of operators do. I don’t see why people have a problem with this – if operators didn’t pick up RDO work or if none were willing to work overtime, there would be a lot more buses & trains canceled due to no operator available to take them out. It’s mutually beneficial to the operators who want the overtime and the transit-dependent who want their buses to show up.

Here’s a thought for you – if there were enough operators to cover all the work, there wouldn’t be so much overtime available.

It’d be a lot cheaper if TriMet would hire minirunners again. They start at the bottom of the pay scale – a whopping $13.83/hr. Sure, operators who have been picking up the overtime would lose a lot of that and there’d probably be some grumbling about it, but overtime (though nice) is not guaranteed. Paying a newcomer $13.83/hr for their shift versus paying $37.70/hr (time and a half for the top rate of bus operator pay) would be a lot cheaper for TriMet to do, and you’d see fewer operators making these apparently oh-so-extravagant salaries. Actually I’d kind of enjoy it if TriMet posted openings for minirunners again – to all of the people whining about the work bus operators do and what they get paid for it: that would be your chance to either turn in your application to be a bus driver yourself or forever hold your peace.

Edited to add: Been talking about this with someone else, who said that there could be a budgetary reason why TriMet feels it makes more sense to pay lots of overtime than it would be to hire new minirunners.  Maybe that’s true – neither of us are TriMet financial planners with particular inside knowledge into that.

But I think it would be kind of nice if there was an official TriMet response to this media frenzy over operators who work a lot of overtime and make the money that they do because of it. TriMet doesn’t seem to mind paying it, so they should stand up for the operators that take on that work.

2 responses to “BREAKING NEWS

  1. Layoffs are always expensive, especially union ones. If the assumption is that there’s a 70 percent chance of economic turnaround in the next year and a 30 percent chance of continuing trouble, it would probably make sense to pay extra OT in the short term so they can avoid layoffs

    Also, the OCN reporter told me the pay figures in his database were for a 12-month period ending somewhere between June and November, so some of the driver’s pay apparently predates the hiring freeze.

    • Oh so you’re thinking that paying overtime is a short-term fix; if things improve then new minirunners can be hired but if they don’t, it’s easier just to cut service & overtime with the existing operators than it would be to lay off newly hired operators? I see what you’re saying.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s