Bus Riders Report on the 2013 Proposal

by Dante DeAmicis

Last Summer a devastating Lake County transit bus strike turned many of our compromised residents’ lives upside down.  The heart of the conflict was Paratransit Services’ determination to keep the drivers’ wage structure flat.  This means that someone who just started driving a bus yesterday would make the same pay as someone with 15 years experience.  Tiered pay rates are common in the real world.  But one can agree with this principle without adopting the Union’s linear steps.

 In the service of this agenda, Paratransit pulled personnel from five of their units in three states, spent over $100,000 of their own money, hired driver applicants that they had rejected previously, and refused to resume full bus service after the strike officially ended to starve out old Union members.  Paratransit is not paid for routes that aren’t running so pursuing their private agenda was worth big bucks to them or some private group bankrolling them.  Their guiding principle seems to be “Lake County riders be damned.”

 The proof that Paratransit had a sinister motive would be if an independent study showed that this contract management company fabricated a huge cost figure for the Union proposal in the absence of reasonable assumptions or best practices.

 The Union proposal can be wrong but still within the realm of reason.  They say their proposal would cost less than $100,000 over Paratransit’s offer.  Paratransit says it would bust the bank at 400 grand.  Lake Transit Authority’s Mark Wall has crunched some numbers that he claims mostly supports Paratransit’s position but has not been forthcoming with specifics.  I believe his figures are public information.

 This kind of discrepancy cannot be accounted for by merely choosing different but reasonable assumptions.  However, neither Paratransit or the Teamsters union have disclosed their methodology.  In addition to myself, CPA Peter Shifman and Mike Bailey, a retired Wall Street guy, have also been denied a crack at the numbers.  Its clear that if this truth gap is going to be closed the job will have to done by the public and riders directly.  The professional elites have failed us.

 This “riders” study has clearly stated assumptions that can be tightened up with specific facts that either Paratransit Services, the Teamster Union, or the Lake Transit Authority can supply.

It is the result of published bus schedules, media reports, the previous driver contract, my limited experience as a transit employee, my extensive experience as a bus rider, and hours of piece meal interviews with longtime drivers on the fly. The end result is a stitched together Frankenstudy but I believe it is based on pretty good information without political agendas.

 CPA Peter Shifman and myself agree that the whole medical issue shouldn’t have been part of the original negotiations due to the Affordable Care Act complicating the issue this year.  We should have been able to compare the Paratransit with the Union wage and benefit numbers without the largely irrelevant medical issue but this Union blunder allowed Paratransit to concoct outrageous fabrications.

 Nevertheless, the issue was in the negotiations so I had to assume a minimal level of voluntary participation on the part of the full time employees in the Union Proposal.

 My Grand Total of the Union Proposal is $151,807.02.   I turned in this report with some boring charts to the Lake Transit Authority at their February 12th meeting.

 It would seem that the Union’s estimate of their proposal was low-balled but Paratransit’s analysis was a product of magical thinking.  How could we explain the huge difference between the Union and Paratransit’s calculations?  The only place to find an answer is in the medical assumptions.

 Rather than 7 we could assume that all the other 13 eligible employees would sign up due to the $80 per month savings to them.  Additional cost: another $12,480.  Also, all employees would have to take advantage of the new spouse coverage, even if they had to get married first. Additional cost: $146,880.

Since I’m still short $88,833 of Paratransit’s 400 thousand inspiration I’ll just assume medical insurance rate increases for 40 employees and spouses (up from 7) of $2,221 per person over 3 years.   Presto: $400,000.  Not bad, since its all done with a medical plan that’s irrelevant as I type this.

Lake County Transit Follies

Percentages, Paratransit, and Jethro Bodine

by Dante DeAmicis

 Jethro Bodine on the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show used to regularly brag “I’m a graduate of the 5th grade.” The running joke of course was that graduating from the 5th grade is no kind of education at all. Don’t be so sure.

 After the 5th grade a student is ready to dive into percentages according to the core curriculum. However, this basic operation can still be daunting to the director of a transit company. In a written response to Teamsters Local 665 Randy Grove wrote “Only 2 employees are over the 10 – year point (with Laidlaw seniority)…..Two out of 39 = .05% . Not even 1%!!” OK, now I’m scared. I hope most people are too, after reading this underlined, double exclamation pointed math rebuttal by Randy Grove.

 NEWS FLASH!! Two out of 39 is closer to 5% not .05%. Lest one think I’m making a big deal about an errant decimal point creeping in, he emphasizes “Not even 1%!!” Time to trade in a few “!!!!” for some math lessons Randy.

 The cost of the Union demands is about a hundred grand according to the Union and a half mil by Paratransit math!! I haven’t seen the algorithm from either party that would settle the matter. But I would be a little suspicious of this organization’s strained relationship with numbers.

 Since Paratransit has such difficulty with percentages I would like to offer my services as a non striking, locked-out employee. One legitimate point Paratransit makes is that you can’t compare the wages of small counties with large counties, implying that Lake is a small county. So what counties should we be comparing Lake County to? How close is close for comparison? That discussion follows.

 I obtained the population ranking of California’s 58 counties. Lake is number 40. Looking at the two counties ranking above (Yuba – 39, Mendocino – 38) and below (Tehama – 41, Tuolumne – 42) Lake County would be a good start. But the percentage difference of the two counties greater than Lake (35.8%) is more than the gap below Lake (14.4%). So we have to drop down 3 counties to get the same range below as above. The new additions are San Benito – 43, Calaveras – 44, and Siskiyou – 45.

 Now its time to get on the phone and call these places about their starting wages for transit drivers. The other issues can wait for another article.

 Yuba is actually combined with Sutter County as a transit agency. The person would only say “around 10 dollars.”

 Mendocino is the highest paid of the 7 agencies I surveyed – $14.28 per hour.

 The San Benito person had no idea what the starting pay was because they contracted with MV. Another call and I found out that MV was negotiating but its “10 something” now.

 Tehama was a Paratransit Services operation and I got a very frosty “We don’t give out that kind of information” after I told the speaker I was a driver from Lake. Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide. More information means better understanding between people.

 Tuolumne got me a “$13 a few cents either way.”

 Calaveras was the most interesting. They start at an even 10 but jump to $12.60 after 1 year.

 Siskiyou was the only competitor for the high water mark at $14.14 per hour.

 Because some of the numbers were soft and Calaveras had that weird structure that was hard to shoehorn in, I could not get an average. I did come up with a reasonable way to make up something for Tehama. Nationally, areas that are all rural and include the poorest areas in the country pay an average of $10.27 per hour for transit drivers. Another web site said Tehama paid 2% above average. (There’s those darn percentages again.) This gives us (Surprise) $10.48 per hour, the same starting pay for Lake drivers.

 I’m going to make a judgment call and say Calaveras’s huge jump after the first year is more significant than the 48 cents they were shy of my fictitious Tehama number. This makes Calaveras the median out of the 7 agencies I compared Lake Transit to. If this massaged median were Gospel, Lake’s first year people would start a little lower than now, at $10 per hour. Then everyone would bump up to $12.60 per hour with no further pay steps. Ah, equality.

 To be fair, the Union negotiator could also use a little brushing up on percentages. Even though they were mostly concerned with putting back the old step raises and other issues they left the two tenths of 1% difference between what was asked and what was offered on the table. This comes to between 2 and 2.5 cents per hour. Not an issue worth arguing about let alone striking over. But the public just sees the two bigger percentage numbers without realizing the difference wouldn’t be significant in a third world nation. The Union should have pulled this distracting demand off the table.