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November 13, 2013

Comments

[While the post has been vacant since Sept. 25, the City "gaps" new hires, spacing them out so as to save money while the job sits vacant.]

Any more detail on that? It may be a 'frugal' move,albeit penny wise and pound foolish. Although there isn't enough detail, one immediately wonders 'how much is the position needed (at the salary quoted)?'

And if other staff are covering, perhaps offer them a raise to cover the position, save money, and reward at the same time?

The existing staff are already stretched thin and it is actually taking away from existing services.

How much of that "stretched thin" is from dealing with issues related to high absenteeism, how much of the work week is typically taken up with dealing with that?

How many drivers book off sick on a weekday when it's busy and their needed and then pick up a shift at time and a half on a Sunday when all they have to do is drive around on an empty bus?

You know people often jump to conclusions about why a particular state of affairs is the way it is, but my experience is that things are sometimes very complex. Take a look at this letter from the transit drivers.

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Blaming Guelph Transit drivers for OT "ludicrous": letter

Guelph Transit operators have issued an open letter in response to a recent staff report alleging abuse of overtime claims. Here it is:

An open letter from the drivers of Guelph Transit.

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.

Respectfully

Transit Operators

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If this letter can be believed, it appears that the reason for large over-time amounts at the Transit service are structural and have nothing at all to do with malingering transit drivers.

Moreover, as the letter states, drivers are in a job that exposes them to a lot of different bugs. My job does too, which means that I work a LOT of days quite sick. But I certainly would not be driving a bus on many of those days because I would be a menace to society.

Finally, I have a neighbour who works for mobility and while I don't know what the situation is now, but I do remember over the years complaining about the fact that bus drivers have had as little as 3 sick days a year and their over-time being paid as straight time instead of time and a half. I don't know what the situation is now, as she said that the union started bringing in professional negotiators to address this outrageous situation. It's true that they get a good salary and have a good pension, but I don't think it's fair to accuse them of being responsible for the overtime problems---if this letter is true.

The new GM already hired the extra staff needed to fixed the board problem so OT was already going to be down. The real problem is the sick no pay b.s. then working a premium slot making time and a half or double time.

Why is that the "real" problem? How much of the 5 million in overtime is due to that specific situation? I'd bet it's such a small factor that it's hardly worth mentioning, but it's being held up as the primary cause of the cost overruns.
The bulk of the overtime comes from understaffing and inefficient scheduling of resources. Those are the problems that need addressing and they're probably very easy to fix.

The easier solution would be to can all the management and turn Guelph Transit into a co-op with the drivers themselves running the show. Seems like most of the problems are the fault of management and not workers.

Tis the public sector management that's to blame for most of whats wrong in the sector. Unfortunately, the unions, union workers and contract employees get scapegoated.

Since when does a mobility supervisor make $82k? It seems to me that, like most municipal workers, management is overpaid.

While I largely agree with the union (!) that scheduling inefficiency and poor hiring practices can be blamed for much of the overtime, I'm sure that some small amount is based on sick time. If council didn't want drivers to be sick, they shouldn't have approved a deal that pays people when they're sick. In any organization, there will be those who show up every day and a few who abuse the system. It seems to me that sick time and it's repercussions would only make up a small amount of the OT.

Time for someone to remove head from posterior and hire some drivers.

The problem is not with the provision of sick leave: it is just another benefit. The usual benefits include sickness, accident, vacation and (stat)holiday - SAVH as it is known.
The problem is weakness of follow-up by the supervisors, and it gets worse the higher one goes in the management structure.
The most effective control that I saw was in the private sector where follow up was a requirement< Regardless of whether the sickness was one or more days, The Supervisor was required to meet with the employee to discuss the absence, and the frequency of taking individual days off if that was a concern. Absences of two or more days required a doctor's note. The discussion was recorded with a copy to the employee and another on the employees file. This provided a trail for sick leave abusers, especially those who were off frequently on Friday or Monday (24-ounce flu??)!
The abuse in my experience is higher in the public sector where abuse of sick-leave is not followed up by immediate supervisor!
Think of the message to the employee when he returns to work - nobody missed me, nobody cares.
As a boss once told me "It is not what you expect, it is what you inspect that matters"

Paul:

I work in the public sector and my experience is like yours. Most of the problem comes from poor management. Not only do they fail to track employees, but their hiring criteria seems to be truly bizarre. One thing that they did do right recently is to make hiring part of a committee process where people who actually do the job are now involved. What a tremendous difference that makes! Too many managers simply didn't know what the job entailed and were hiring the wrong sorts of people.

Another problem is that we have so many managers that they are terrified of giving any front line staff any authority to make decisions. And they punish people for showing initiative. As a result, after a while even the keenest people start thinking "who gives a rat's ass".

Years ago my organization hired some consultants to look at where they could save money and their report suggested that there were far too many middle managers and that's where the cuts should be made, not with front line staff. They gave as one example the fact that it took 20 managers signing off on declaring a piece of equipment surplus before they would be able to either sell or junk it. I know that my department actually rented a warehouse to store stuff because it was easier to do that than to get rid of it.

Some of the more idiotic things that I've seen done come from fear of what the loudest part of the public will say if they know what is going on. For example, we have a lot of surplus books that we have to get rid of. It used to be that the public relations department was terrified of someone seeing a book with our organization's stamp on it in the landfill. So they had us dutifully box this stuff, put it on skids and pay to have it shipped to Ottawa for the national book exchange where it was land-filled. Who's to blame for that? Well, to be honest, some of the blame has to adhere to the lame-stream press and the loudest part of the public who would have had a "gotcha field day" if they had seen any stuff in the landfill.

It's unfortunate, but it is almost impossible to have an adult conversation about labour/management issues anymore because of the angry, anti-union types and the politically-correct brigades. :(

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Joanne

Joanne Shuttleworth is the newsroom lead in municipal affairs coverage for the Guelph Mercury. She is a former Guelph YWCA Woman of Distinction honouree and a past winner of an Ontario Newspapers Award for her work as an editor. You can reach her at jshuttleworth@guelphmercury.com

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About Chris

  • Chris Herhalt
    covers municipal affairs and politics for the Guelph Mercury. Prior to joining the Mercury he worked at The Record of Waterloo Region and at The Canadian Press. He can be reached at cherhalt@guelphmercury.com