What’s the Matter with Metro?, III

In 1983 Metro was paying about double what other employers were. I recall saying to my coworkers in the mid-’80s that I thought if anything we were overpaid. That went over like a lead balloon, but it was (I think) true, at least to a certain extent. Now? Not so much. Metro is having a very hard time (even in this economy) hiring good techs and mechanics — primarily because the pay is no longer competitive. A former coworker told me just the other day that a recently hired Helper he was working with did not know how to use a meter to check a fuse! That is similar to a hospital hiring a nurse that cannot remove sutures. It’s beyond ridiculous. Any high school kid who has spent a few weeks in an electronics class should be able to check a fuse.

Those that have time invested will stay, but young techs and mechanics are going elsewhere – and reportedly getting about the same pay – while working indoors, in relatively safe conditions, on day shift, Monday through Friday, with weekends and holidays off.

Metro needs to up the ante, but they haven’t been able to.

A large part of the problem is that everyone’s pay is tied to the “Top Operator” rate – the maximum base pay for a train operator or bus driver. Technicians and mechanics make from 100% to 114% of a bus driver’s salary. Now, I realize some people might think that seems just fine but the problem is that if Metro wants to increase the starting salary for technicians and mechanics to attract more qualified applicants, they _must_ increase the pay for everyone – all of the approx. 7,500 custodians, bus drivers, senior mechanics and techs, track walkers, gardeners, carpenters,train operators, station managers, etc, that are members of ATU Local 689. That simply isn’t practical. IIRC, employee salaries and benefits represent about 85% of WMATA’s operating budget — hundreds of millions of dollars. Passengers are tired of fare and parking increases. The local taxpayers are already incensed at what some employees (mostly drivers and operators) make, especially with OT. Some Metro employees (not many, but over 100) make over $100,000 per year. A few make as much as $130K to $140K. That’s the exception, the top end, but that’s what makes the news – the number people remember and repeat. There are a lot of union members that make more than people in middle and upper management at Metro — more than many people who have multiple college degrees and work on K Street (for example) and are very, shall we say, ‘sensitive’ about the fact that some of the people who they look down on as being unsophisticated blue-collar “Joe 6-pack” slobs are making (in some cases) _double_ what they do. So…in that political environment, it’s very, very difficult to justify giving thousands of Metro employees a raise when all Metro may want to do is increase the pay for a few classifications. Unfortunately, that’s the only way Metro can increase the starting salary for technicians, which BTW is just 90% of the Top Operator rate.

That’s a big problem that is rarely mentioned in the main stream media.

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