Lake County Transit Strike – The Big Issue

by Dante DeAmicis

They say that if you don’t get the big things in first, you won’t get them in at all.  Wage step increases are the big issue for both the transit drivers and company management.

Previous contracts, in Lake County and elsewhere, have had annual step increases per year of service in addition to any cost of living increases received.  But that was then and this is now.  As a result of my short transit survey I learned that agencies that used to have annual pay-step increases are reducing the number of steps.  The operative word here is “reducing.”

The philosophy behind step increases is that you retain people long enough to become experienced while not paying them more until they are more experienced. This future promise also attracts stable people who want to settle down and raise families in one community with one employer.  As an extra bonus, steps also pull in a few people from out of the area who already have some experience but who have to start at the beginning wage.  Such a deal for management.

Realistically, this “Why not the best?” practice may no longer be possible in a burned out economy, even though the Wall Street perpetrators have gone back out to play.  But we are not a basket case yet.  Second best is still an option.  Other agencies admitted they recently reduced the number of steps but they exist at longer intervals.  Their organizations still value experience and will pay as much as possible for it.

Our current corporate management for Lake County transit places no value on experience whatsoever.  The previous managing company did but this company does not. They have the outlook of a contractor who could be gone with the next contract.  An experienced crew of drivers that will remain after they are history benefits the community but does not add any feathers to their nest.

The incentives of a company who are tunnel-visioned on a contract expiration date could be over ruled by the Lake County transit agency who sees the big picture and takes a longer view.  Rather than leave all driver contract details to the contracted company, Lake Transit could specify certain minimums they want to see in labor contracts that affect the stability of the agency.

People in the real world know that annual pay steps are a fond memory.  This does not mean some pay steps cannot still serve Lake County’s best interests, replacing and holding on to as many levels as possible.  Someone who wants to take a leadership role might suggest looking at how many steps and at which anniversaries will deliver the most experience bang for the buck.

It may make sense politically for a transit agency to assume a mantel of neutrality. But when their contracted company pursues a scorched earth, line in the sand policy because it serves their narrow interests for a short period then political leadership needs to put neutrality on the back burner for awhile.

Personally, I’m not all that interested in step raises.  I planned to drive for 3 years and retire.  A fixed wage of “10 something” is fine for a poor, older person with no family to support.  The question that I’m asking Lake County transit leaders is  “Am I a major recruitment focus or should a function that our compromised residents depend on be served by a broader base of employees?”

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