More Madison Metro drivers worked 70+ hours a week in 2012

Extra overtime blamed on retirements after Act 10
More Madison Metro drivers worked 70+ hours a week in 2012

Madison Metro officials blame a steep increase in bus driver overtime last year on the state’s controversial collective bargaining law.

Nearly 40 drivers — more than double the norm — retired in late 2011 after the implementation of Act 10, which stripped most public employee unions of many collective bargaining rights.

The open positions in the 2012 schedule led to other drivers working 29.4 percent more overtime than the previous year.

“With all the changes happening in state government and collective bargaining, we had a record number of retirements,” Metro General Manager Chuck Kamp said. “So that year, we probably doubled the average number of drivers who chose to retire.”

Some senior drivers, who have the first opportunities for overtime, occasionally worked more than 70 hours a week in 2012, records show. That level of work happened more than twice as frequently as it did the year before.

Some riders said they thought the city should limit the hours a driver can work.

“If you have that many people’s lives in your hand, including the pedestrians and the oncoming traffic, I don’t think that should be allowed,” said Nate Maier, who rides the bus on Madison’s west side.

But while overtime rose in 2012, the number of accidents for which Metro drivers bore some responsibility fell from 77 to 57, records from the bus agency indicate.

“My intuition is similar — you would think if you’re working more hours, that’s more of a safety issue,” Kamp said. “But the data — both our data here at Metro and the data at the insurance company — doesn’t show that.”

The highest-paid drivers are some of the most senior and have the best safety records, Kamp said.

While the federal government restricts commercial truck drivers to 70 hours of service every seven days, the same rules don’t apply to government employees, such as city bus drivers.

More Madison Metro drivers worked 70+ hours a week in 2012

Kamp said he would like to see a day when no driver works more than 50 or 60 hours in a week, although without legislation in place, it’s unlikely that hours-of-service restrictions take effect locally, he said.

Meanwhile, overtime pay has fallen at least 20 percent so far in 2013, as the city has hired new drivers to replace those who retired, Kamp said.

Two bus drivers in 2012 made at least $100,000 in base pay, overtime and benefits, Kamp said.

That’s a number Kamp said he’s “much more comfortable with” than when driver John Nelson made $159,000 in 2009, which made him the city’s highest-paid employee that year.

A new union contract and more aggressive hiring for open positions allows Metro to better control overtime, Kamp said.