About 140 King County Metro Access van drivers are losing their jobs and being rehired for less money. The shake-up is the result of cost...

About 140 King County Metro Access van drivers are losing their jobs and being rehired for less money.

The shake-up is the result of cost cutting by Metro Transit, which dropped the Access contractor that has paid the highest salaries.

Three providers had contracted with Metro to run the door-to-door Access van service for elderly and disabled riders. But in a bidding competition this spring, one company lost out. MV Transportation — which paid drivers the most — will cease operating Access vans after Saturday.

About 25 union members and supporters held a brief informational picket Tuesday at Metro headquarters near Seattle’s King Street Station.

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The displaced drivers, who made $19.90 an hour at the top end, will earn no more than $17.50 to $18 an hour with the other two providers, said Paul Neil, financial secretary for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, which represents drivers at MV Transportation.

MV Transportation’s union agreement would have boosted the top hourly wage past $23 in about four years.

One of the two remaining Access contractors, the Seattle-based nonprofit Solid Ground, has a union agreement. But most of the work that had been done by MV Transportation drivers will shift to nonunion jobs at Veolia Transportation.

“The county has access to money; they pay their upper management great wages. Why don’t they look at efficiency in upper management?” said demonstrator Linda Averill, a bus driver and former Seattle City Council candidate. “The county is trying to balance its budget on the back of its workers. I think it is all about union busting.”

In May, Local 587 President Lance Norton complained in a letter to county Executive Ron Sims: “This approach seems antithetical to your public stance of supporting living wages for working people.”

Metro’s general manager, Kevin Desmond, estimated there would be a $1 million annual savings by going with just two providers.

“That’s not insubstantial,” Desmond said, “given the other problems we have, with rising fuel prices.”

Desmond said the agency has a duty to use taxpayer money as effectively as possible. But he also said he wasn’t involved in setting wages.

Carolyn Duncan, a spokeswoman for Sims, said he doesn’t get involved in bidding competitions but is satisfied this “was an objective process.”

Still, Sims was pretty concerned about how angry Lance [Norton] was,” according to a May 1 e-mail Desmond wrote to another county staffer, and obtained through a public-documents request.

Since then, Sims has met union and Veolia officials, said Duncan. Sims was assured that most other Veolia sites nationwide are unionized, and workers are free to collectively bargain, said Duncan.

Another picket is planned Aug. 12.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com