Report from Driver 39

By Dante DeAmicis

 This just in from the Lake Transit Economics Department: Lower Wages are good for Lake County. On September 1st we will know how many 11 to 12 dollar an hour drivers have been axed for $10.48 an hour replacement drivers. Inquiring minds want to know, “How is paying lower wages going to help Lake County?” Its simple, by making it harder for people here who have to work for a living we will be encouraging these people to leave and be replaced by bon vivants who have independent means, preferably from Napa. This follows the real estate credo: “The only good buck is a fast buck.” No doubt the Transit Authority knows where their bread is buttered and has signed on to policies that have made Lake County the booming metropolis that it is today.

 There will probably be a net increase in that high-roller EDD money pouring into the County. Since the State is struggling to stay afloat, it makes sense to the goober brain trust to get as many people on unemployment as we can while the money is still there. The strategy of replacing working people with recipients of meager unemployment checks is related to General Cornwallis’ tactic of firing cannon on his own troops during the American Revolution. Not only did it ensure a win, it cut down on food costs.

 Many non bus riders have had a hard time wrapping their mind around transit issues except when someone puts a bus stop sign in front of their house and Jesus tells them to take a hacksaw to it. The problem is that Transit Authority meetings lack the entertainment value of a Clearlake City Council meeting. News coverage about buses is a total snoozer.

 First off, taking a Paratransit guy from Washington and a Teamster guy from the Bay Area does not make them interesting just because you put them in Lake County, churning out official statements. Instead, I recommend that local media ignore the suits and focus on Operations Manager Wanda Gray and senior driver and organizer April Allen. If there’s going to be a fight, we want it to be an all local, high-powered bitch fight. Randy and Ralph look terrible on video.

 Next, since the the TA is where the big money is, the meetings have an obligation to be exciting since money is supposed to be exciting. Oh, Board Member Chuck Leonard does what he can with his rabid anti-unionism and open disgust with poor people in general. But one man can only do so much without a foil. There are two at-large seats on the Board. I certainly wouldn’t advocate replacing Chuck for the frivolous reason that he only represents the upper crust of Lake County’s day-old bakery. No, since its all about entertainment I recommend replacing the other at-large Member with a slogan chanting union goon. Someone like former union organizer Tim Williams might create some sparks with the old union buster.

 Have we forgotten anything? Oh yes, the children. There is an educational opportunity here to include them in the controversy. We just might have the local equivalent of Jeff Foxworthy’s “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” The “Are You Smarter than a Bus Rider” version would feature local elementary school kids pitted against Paratransit business wonks. These are the guys who said 2 out of 39 was “.05%.” Second guess: “Well, not even 1%, no wait, I’d like to buy an exclamation point.”

 I hope the kids don’t humiliate them too badly.

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?”

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.