A federal investigation found Metro paid only 10 minutes’ wages for pre-trip bus inspections that took on average eight minutes longer.
King County Metro Transit will pay a total of $6.4 million in back wages to 2,403 bus drivers for pre-trip safety checks that required many of them to start working before their paid shifts.
On average, the inspections took eight minutes longer than the 10 minutes for which drivers were paid, according to an inquiry by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The one-time cost hit won’t cut into bus service on the street, Metro General Manager Rob Gannon said Thursday in disclosing the federal order. That is because Metro’s fuel costs and payroll were running under this year’s budget, he said.
Metro cooperated with federal officials and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, Gannon said. He said the feds mandated a factor of 1.33 hours be added to an 80-hour pay period, for instance, going back two years. In some cases, that pushed drivers into overtime pay as well. And then the employees will get double the missed pay as a payment for damages, per federal order.
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Back pay will be sent to workers in two installments starting Oct. 11, a Metro statement says. Notices will be posted at the maintenance bases Friday morning where all bus drivers can see them before their next shift, Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer said.
Some drivers will also be compensated for overtime wrongly paid as standard hours, for meetings and for paperwork.
At least 30 inspections are required in the transit-operator rule book, to include routine checks of lights, mirrors, tires, trolley bus power wires, destination signs, cleanliness and ORCA fare-card readers.
Gannon said transit operators generally show up early to do them — because of their work ethic, and the misery drivers would endure if they were to begin busy transit runs several minutes behind schedule.
A strong economy, and voter-approved Seattle car-tab fees, help Metro’s budget. Still, the $6.4 million is cash that might have been applied to future service.
Asked about that, Gannon said Metro wouldn’t add trips anyway unless they’re sustainable for many years, so the $6.4 million payout this fall isn’t an obstacle. It represents just under 1 percent of annual operating cost.
Gannon says that he has no theory as to why it took union grievances and a federal inquiry to fix daily-wage violations, and that he’s focused on the future. That could include streamlining pre-trip tasks so they don’t duplicate maintenance work and improvements to electronic record keeping.
“We are absolutely committed to the safety of the buses. We’re absolutely committed to our customers,” Gannon said. “Our operators are still going to pull out on time in a safe coach.”
Local 587 President Michael Shea said Friday that bus drivers might get a bit more money, because of the new labor contract that boosted wages retroactively 2 percent from November 2016 through May. That raise didn’t yet exist during the federal review and should also be applied to six months of uncompensated job tasks, he said.
Going forward, time and pay for pre-drive checks can be renegotiated within the new contract, Shea said.
Unpaid pre-drive work has frustrated bus drivers for years, he said.
“We’ve brought it up before in contract negotiations, and they [Metro] didn’t want to budge from what they had,” Shea said. A total 104 employees sent Metro grievance forms last year, the agency’s statement said.
“I believe the majority of my membership is happy with this resolution,” Shea said. “A lot of them are going to be surprised. They didn’t know this was going on.”