King County Metro today informed employees that eligible transit operators will receive back wages determined by a U.S. Department of Labor review of Metro pay practices.
Beginning Oct. 11, 2017, Metro will pay eligible transit operators back wages and other payments totaling $6.4 million to 2,403 current and former Metro operators who meet specific criteria defined by the U.S. Department of Labor. Metro’s actions will fulfill all DOL requirements. DOL is finalizing its efforts in the coming weeks.
“We worked productively with the U.S. Department of Labor to correct our pay practices, so we pay eligible drivers what they are owed. We take this responsibility seriously and will fully comply with their findings,” said King County Metro General Manager Rob Gannon.
The DOL contacted Metro in March 2017 regarding how it pays transit operators. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act governs minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping requirements for almost every public and private employer. Metro cooperated fully with the DOL, providing pay records and direct access to operators and supervisors.
Transit operators were identified by DOL as being eligible for compensation related to three non-driving work requirements: pre-trip inspections, meetings they had with a supervising chief, and instances where they were incorrectly paid straight time instead of overtime. DOL found that Metro had not correctly paid operators for their time performing these non-driving tasks.
Eligible operators will receive payments ranging from $44 to $8,500, depending on the number of hours worked each pay period for the past two years.
“I have made a commitment to the U.S. Department of Labor that all changes will be made. I have assigned operations staff to streamline our pre-trip inspection processes, modernize how operators are scheduled and correct how they are paid,” Gannon said. “The road to innovation starts at reform and modernization. This review helps move us along that path.”
These one-time payments to operators will come from Metro’s budget, where estimated one-time fuel and salary savings have been identified.
Paying operators for pre-trip work
As part of a contract with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 in place since at least 1994, Metro pays most operators for 10 minutes prior to the start of their route. That time allows operators to perform specific activities in their base and conduct an inspection of their assigned coach.
Through a survey of operators, the Department of Labor found that some operators began work before the 10-minute agreed-upon time. In order to comply with federal overtime requirements, Metro is required to pay a settlement to operators who worked enough hours to place them in an overtime status and who may have worked more than the required 10 minutes for pre-trip processes. In arriving at the settlement amount, the Department of Labor used an average of eight minutes more than the 10 minutes agreed upon in the ATU contract.
Metro received grievances regarding the pre-trip process from 104 transit operators in August 2016 – prior to DOL review – and immediately began a collaborative process with union members and supervisors to determine if the long-agreed to 10 minutes was adequate. That work is nearing completion. When the review is complete, Metro will address any needed changes with the union.
Part of that process has been to eliminate redundant coach checks that are completed by both the operator and Metro vehicle maintenance. Each bus is currently inspected by vehicle maintenance staff at the end of each day in accordance with federal safety requirements. Any needed maintenance or repairs are addressed before the coach is returned to service. This practice will continue.
Paying operators for supervisor meetings, reports
The Department of Labor also reviewed the time an operator may spend meeting with a supervisor and time spent completing required reports. Metro received grievances from 39 operators in June 2017 regarding pay for time worked in supervisor meetings. The Department of Labor determined that payments for time that operators spend meeting with supervisors are processed inconsistently across Metro. To address the past inconsistencies, Metro will pay those operators who were overtime eligible under the Fair Labor Standards Act an additional 36 minutes of overtime per year. Going forward, all operators will be paid for time they are required to meet with their supervisors.
Other non-driving work, such as completing safety and service reports, was previously paid at straight time regardless of an operator’s eligibility for overtime, according to the terms of the contract with the operators’ union. Metro has converted these hours and associated pay to overtime for eligible operators.
In addition, the Department of Labor determined that Metro’s recordkeeping requirements are insufficient. Actions are underway to improve the operators’ sign-in process, as well as to expand electronic recordkeeping.
Metro is committed to working with drivers and the union to change practices and take the steps necessary to bring them into compliance with the law.
Metro found no instances where a foreshortened pre-trip inspection led to the unsafe operation of a bus. Each bus is inspected by vehicle maintenance staff at the end of each day in accordance with federal safety requirements and identified maintenance or repair items are addressed. Riders can feel confident that Metro service is still safe, and safety is our No. 1 priority.
Summary of upcoming actions
This fall, Metro is moving ahead with:
- Streamlining pre-trip inspections to reduce redundant checks that are performed by both vehicle maintenance staff the night before and drivers in the morning. Metro’s Vehicle Maintenance and Operations work groups have inventoried all tasks completed as part of pre-trip checks. Metro will complete its review and implement revised pre-trip tasks.
- Correcting pay practices where needed.
- Recording time as “straight-time overtime” was in some instances being incorrectly used to pay transit operators. That practice has been corrected, and overtime is being correctly paid to operators.
- Ensuring operators are paid for time worked outside of driving, including time meeting with a supervisor, completing reports and other required activities. Metro’s payroll staff and Operations supervisors have been informed of the requirement to pay for all time worked—even if the time exceeds that required by the operators’ union contract.
- A consistent format for reporting time worked outside driving time has been implemented.
- A Memorandum of Agreement has been proposed and signed by ATU, ensuring that provisions in the contract that the Department of Labor has determined to be out of compliance will be negotiated as soon as the DOL investigation is completed.
- Actions to improve driver sign-in processes are underway. Current software used by Operations has been evaluated; and the functionality exists for an automated sign-in. An implementation plan, including negotiations with the union if required, is being developed.
- Metro is scheduling training for managers and supervisors concerning federal and state pay requirements.
- Base chiefs will receive training and direction to help announce changes and work directly with operators so the changes will be implemented smoothly.