Ben Franklin Transit employees packed the board of directors meeting Thursday night to announce a vote of no confidence against the management and to suggest improvements.
Employees expressed concerns about transit managers averaging 5.8 percent wage increases during the past six years while drivers saw their pay increase by an average of just 2.7 percent.
They pointed out the wage disparity between drivers and their supervisors was 55.5 percent, while it was 83.3 percent between drivers and their managers and 155.5 percent between drivers and general manager Tim Fredrickson.
Employees said management issues have created the "worst morale among the workers in the history of Ben Franklin Transit" and called the transit "one of the most corrupt public agencies in the Tri-Cities."
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Bob Hawks, secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local No. 839, said the open letter to the board was signed by 150 of the 200 employees in the union, but he didn't provide their names because they fear retaliation.
The complaints against the management were read by various union members during the public comment period at the start of the meeting. Then, the letter and a packet of documents was presented to the board.
"We made sure our information is correct," Norma Nelson told the Herald after the meeting. "We had our facts before we walked into the meeting. It hurts employees when they find out how much money other people are making, when they're told 'We don't have any money.' "
Nelson has been a Dial-A-Ride driver for 22 years and the shop steward for 19 years. She's the vice president of the local union and sits on the board as a non-voting member.
The union believed it needed to take its concerns directly to the board because management hasn't listened, Nelson said.
"We brought suggestions to them in the past, but I don't think it's taken seriously," Nelson said. "We want to make it work. This is our livelihood. This is my career. I'm not just passing through. We really care about the people we serve."
Among the 14 suggestions to save money was to review all routes for duplicate service and schedule issues and change routes to implement right turns where possible to reduce fuel consumption as UPS has done.
The union said supervisors could be cross-trained between fixed routes and Dial-A-Ride so the same person could handle both areas and possibly reduce the number of supervisors needed, and training could be better coordinated to reduce overtime costs.
At the end of the meeting, board member Lynn Johnson thanked the employees for bringing their concerns to the board and said he intends to thoroughly look through the information they provided.
"Voices in volumes can speak a message," he said.
Board chairman Leo Bowman asked transit staff to analyze the suggestions and said board members will review them at the committee meetings.
Kathy McMullen, the transit's service development manager, said the employees did have some good ideas in their letter, but some can't be implemented because of federal guidelines.
"People aren't packages. We can't do the same thing," McMullen said regarding the suggestion to follow the UPS idea of creating routes that are right-turn only.
She said best practices are used when planning routes, and they're set up so a rider can catch the bus on one side of the street and know they can go out on the other side of the street when they're ready to go back the other way.
"There are a lot of tricks to it, and we can always do better, but we do pretty well," she said.
McMullen said the transit operates on a lean budget, and management makes up less than 10 percent of the budget.
"I think we do listen to them," she said, noting that three union members sit on the management committee. "I was actually kind of taken aback ... because they do have a lot of opportunity for input."
Also Thursday, the board approved fare increases that raise the rates by an average of 20 percent. Beginning June 1, it will cost $1.50 for adults/Dial-A-Ride, up from $1.25, with the monthly pass going up $3 to $25.
Senior citizens will have to be 65 before they can ride for free on fixed routes -- right now it's age 60 -- but those already holding senior passes can continue using them.
Other increases are: Freedom Pass goes up $6 to $50 a month; summer youth pass went up $3 to $25 a month, and a day pass will be $4 instead of $3.50.
The summer youth pass, day pass and Freedom Pass rate changes were reduced slightly after taking into account citizens' comments during the public hearings last month, McMullen said.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org