Benefits, wages biggest share of Pierce Transit budget
KRIS SHERMAN; Staff writer
Wages and benefits accounted for about 70 percent of Pierce Transit’s $121 million operating budget last year. That’s typical for many government agencies, where employees account for the largest segment of costs.
But opponents of the agency’s tax increase request are critical of Pierce Transit’s pay and benefits, complaining that employees earn more than counterparts in the private sector.
“We’ve got bus drivers making nearly six figures, while the people they want to tax are experiencing unemployment and underemployment,” said Pete Chamberlain, a member of the No on Prop. 1 committee.
Overall, the transit system’s average annual payroll grew by 18 percent from 2005 through 2009, a rate higher than the average of local private sector companies but lower than some neighboring government agencies, a News Tribune analysis shows.
Information provided by the agency shows:
25 of 150 nonunion employees had gross pay of more than $100,000 in 2010.
15 of 150 nonunion workers received between $90,000 and $99,999 in 2010.
Two bus drivers were paid more than $90,000 last year; 41 other drivers received more than $70,000, many making more than one-third of their pay in overtime.
Their base hourly wages range from $21.27 to $27, or between $44,241 and $56,160 a year.
Overtime is built into budgets to allow for emergencies, traffic tie-ups and other unpredictables, financial officer Wayne Fanshier said.
It’s also “cost-effective” because an agency can save on recruitment, training and other costs of hiring additional drivers, CEO Lynne Griffith said. Pierce Transit budgeted about $5.2 million for overtime in 2010 but paid out about 16 percent less than that – $4.3 million, year-end statistics show.
Critics complain that Pierce Transit’s drivers and other Amalgamated Transit Union members received a 4 percent cost-of-living increase last summer, even as the agency struggled to balance its budget. The local consumer price index declined 0.05 percent between July 2009 and July 2010.
Griffith and her management staff asked union members to forgo the raise; the union refused. But it was a commitment the agency was bound to honor, she added.
The agency axed cost-of-living raises for its nonunion workers last year, though step increases were still in place.
At the same time, workers are paying more for health care coverage and the agency suspended matching contributions to nonunion workers’ deferred compensation accounts, Griffith said.
Nonunion employees, for example, pay between $75 and $170 a month for medical/dental premiums. Last year, their monthly share ranged from $60 to $135. Pierce Transit’s contribution ranges from about $1,100 to $1,375 monthly.
For 2011, the agency has budgeted no wage increases, but it still must negotiate with the union that represents most of its workers. King County Metro union workers agreed last fall to no pay raise for 2010-2011.
Don McKnight, the local ATU president and business agent, said Tuesday that he couldn’t comment on what the union might or might not do because negotiations haven’t begun.
Regarding overtime, he said: “I think our members work very hard for what they get out there, and I believe everybody is entitled to a livable wage.”
Drivers who earn large amounts of overtime “practically have to live there” to earn it, he added. And if they didn’t, “we would have buses that wouldn’t have left the yard.”
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659