Nobody should work almost 80 hours a week for most of the year.
That's especially true if you're driving a 20-ton bus over sometimes slippery roads with riders constantly hopping aboard and jumping off.
Yet that's the number of hours during the typical week that the top-paid bus driver at Metro Transit worked last year to earn annual pay of $159,258, according to bus system officials.
The city needs to fix its union contract with bus drivers so excessive and concentrated overtime pay can't continue.
It's not safe. It wastes money. And it raises suspicion that taxpayers are being exploited.
The State Journal just reported the highest paid city employee during 2009 was bus driver John E. Nelson, who earned the $159,258. The mayor, by comparison, earned $112,880.
Seven bus drivers in all earned more than $100,000 each - even though the top pay for the job is $26 an hour, which would produce an annual salary of around $54,000. But their union contract gives bus drivers with the most seniority first dibs at time-and-a-half overtime, allowing their pay to skyrocket.
Nelson, for example, earned about $100,000 in overtime. For that amount of money, the city could have hired two additional drivers.
Part of the problem last year was the mayor's hiring freeze, which he lifted after learning it was triggering more expensive overtime.
But the biggest factor seems to be contract language limiting Metro Transit's ability to hire and use part-time drivers when they're most needed. Add to that an unusual jump in claims under the Federal Medical Leave Act.
Metro general manager Chuck Kamp said Friday about three-quarters of the increase in overtime in 2009 was caused by an 8,000-hour (44 percent) increase in FMLA time off.
Kamp said Metro Transit is analyzing why that was so high. Metro also is working with the Teamsters, who represent the bus drivers, to control vacancies and absenteeism, he said.
The city needs to make sure drivers aren't gaming the system by calling in sick for a shift only to work the very next shift for overtime pay. That's what some state prison guards were doing several years ago. Kamp said he's confident that isn't happening here.
The city is now negotiating its next contract. It needs to be tough and win concessions, particularly on the use of part-time drivers.
Taxpayers can afford an efficient bus system - but not a gravy train for select employees.
BY THE NUMBERS
The number of Metro Transit bus drivers who earned more than $100,000 last year.
Top pay for a city bus driver last year.
Total amount of overtime paid to Metro Transit employees.
Amount Metro was over budget for overtime costs.
Percent above budgeted amount for overtime.
Percent increase in overtime hours caused by Family and Medical Leave Act absences.
Estimated average hours the highest paid bus driver would have had to work each week last year (when not on vacation) to earn as much as he did.
Source: Madison Metro Transit
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