Lost in the rush to indict the drivers of Guelph Transit on the whole overtime fracas, is their side of the story. This open letter from the drivers of Guelph Transit has been making the rounds online, including Cam Guthrie's blog and Ian Findlay's blog. I mentioned it on the last edition of "The Guelph Hour" on Beyond the Ballot Box, and I wanted to post it here too. The picutre it paints suggests that the maybe there's bigger operational problems with the city's mass transit service.
Without stealing the letters thunder by going into too much detail, the implication seems to be that a number of the services offered by Guelph Transit - things like relief buses, weekend coverage, late night and stat holiday service - are not part of the service's regular function, and thus count as overtime. How can services that Guelph Transit's been offering for years not count as part of its regular service, especially since contracts have been renegotiated since those services went into effect? Why didn't someone at Transit, at some point, say to management, "Hey, we're doing things we're not covered by contract to do, let's amend that?"
Speaking of which, it's worth noting that Guelph Transit is currently in collective bargaining with the city on a new contact. The cynical view may say that the city may use the overtime controversy to thei advantage and use public sentiment to force consessions. But if the union was smart, they'd use the public outrage as a teaching moment, and force the city to make consessions ensuring proper staffing and pay scales to ensure that the workers are getting paid for the work they do. The negotiations, as they progress should prove interesting indeed.
Please read the full letter below and decide for yourself:
In response to the city’s auditor’s recent negative comments regarding employee overtime abuses at transit. This document is critically lacking in providing you with the information you require to make informed decisions. ATU 1189 members would like to correct this damaging oversight.
To start with, let us look at the late night service. This was not a union sought initiative. This service was proposed by the Guelph Police Service, Transit management and approved by council. These runs are all over and above base service and are almost 100% covered by overtime.
The Gordon corridor run, 13 extra, Metro grocery shuttles are generally overtime or extra board assignments.
In addition, the coverage required by both Saturday and Sunday break runs, is regularly scheduled as overtime.
The service listed above is classed at transit as “open work”. This means that they are not signed runs and do not run long enough to be able to create a full run out of them. The result is that there is approximately 247 hours per week scheduled as overtime just to provide this extra service. Management has the ability, as per our collective agreement to hire twenty extra board drivers. These drivers have no guarantee of hours and do not receive benefits until the completion of an extensive probation period. Management certainly has the option available to them to eliminate a large portion of the overtime costs at transit. This has never happened.
The cost of providing service on statutory holidays is immense. These hours are all overtime and again was not a Union initiative. This service requires 27 full runs plus 4 operators to fill break shifts and one spare operator. There is also the supervisors and cleaning staff to consider. This is 300 plus hours of overtime without the supervisors and cleaners added in. Multiply this by the 10 days per year we provide this service and the total is 3000 hours of overtime paid out for operators wages. In addition, the hours a supervisor works would be banked and taken at a later date requiring possible coverage by a union member working as a supervisor and another overtime shift paid out to cover this operators assigned run. A money funnel is the only way to describe this but council approved statutory holidays and the associated costs. The drivers, cleaners and maintenance staff have no complicity in this drain on city coffers other than working the approved shifts.
It is also worth noting that the split shift runs and some base service runs have been designed with an overtime requirement built in.
Management’s extensive use of union members to perform supervisors duties is a large drain on the system. Every time a union member works as a supervisor, another driver is required to fill his open shift. Some members can work as much as 2 weeks supervising out of each month and for quite some time now a union member has covered the position of scheduler with the result that his run is requiring daily coverage up to 40 hours per week by another driver. Eliminating the use of union members performing management duties would definitely shrink the overtime requirement and open a larger base of members to fill regular shifts.
The statement regarding some drivers taking 40 to 50 days off per year is misleading. No employee would be allowed to be absent at any city facility for what would amount to four shifts per month without repercussions. This statement must be a result of either short term or long-term disability claims and does not belong in this report as all lengthy absences are covered by spare board operators and should not generate any overtime requirement.
Human Resources have been aggressively pursuing attendance management practices for several years now. Sick days are an unfortunate yet unavoidable part of working side by side with our customers. Close contact with hundreds of customers daily cannot help but result in higher than normal illness. Operators are in a confined space and exposed daily to any number of germs or illness. This unfortunate and unavoidable aspect is part of the job. Our collective agreement allows for fifty non-cumulative sick hours per year.
"Drivers receive sign in and sign out bonuses during split shifts” All runs have “sign in and sign out” attached to them. This is not a bonus, it is a set period of time built into a run allowing a driver time to perform a circle check on their assigned vehicle and travel time to both start their run and then return to transit at the end of their shift. We do not have the option of starting work at the facility we clock in at. We are required to take a city vehicle to the starting point of our assigned run. This allotted time is generally 15 minutes but can vary when a driver is required to travel farther than the terminal to start the run. A large number of drivers are actually out doing circle checks and preparing for the day 15-20 minutes before they actually start being paid. We do not see any complaints about the “free” time we willingly provide each day to ensure our customers satisfaction nor do we expect any extra thank you for doing this. It is just who we are.
Shift trades do not cost the city anything. It is simply what it says, a trade. If anything, drivers should be encouraged to actively pursue shift trades to accommodate situations requiring their absence.
In conclusion, to claim that operators and maintenance personnel are responsible for an abuse of overtime is ludicrous. The operators and maintenance staff at Guelph Transit are not and have never been responsible for either the run scheduling or a complete lack of foresight in hiring enough drivers, maintenance staff, cleaners and supervisors to effectively manage a growing service. We have no control over “extra service decided upon by management and city council”. We do agree that better management of our work environment could improve some employee absence, including undue stress and morale problems. We cannot concur that the employees are in any way responsible for the majority of overtime being distributed at the transit facility. For many years the city has promoted “teamwork and employee engagement” This has not been the case at Transit. Instead of the perceived “culture of entitlement”, it is more a culture of us versus them, and is in no way conducive to a successful management/employee relationship as upper managements complete acceptance of this flawed report clearly indicates.
It is also worth noting that given the city’s statement about improving employee relations and dealing with morale problems as were found in a recent employee survey, it is extremely disturbing and demoralizing to have our City Management and Councillors embrace this report. You have collectively and repeatedly, refused to hear our suggestions and opinions for improvement in the workplace and once again, when a problem arises you do not hesitate to place the blame directly on your employees. You have labelled us as thieves in the eyes of the public we strive to serve and have thrown us out into our work environment to fend for ourselves. These accusations and the unfortunate and undeserved way they have been presented to the public, is most definitely not in keeping with the city standards of wellbeing and your responsibility in providing a safe working environment.