RFTA avoids labor crisis
November 6, 2006
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has sidestepped a labor shortage that threatened to force the company to whittle its bus schedule this winter.A month ago, RFTA management warned the board of directors that hours of operation for buses might have to be reduced because it was having trouble hiring enough drivers and mechanics for the winter. “I think we were apprehensive a month to 45 days ago going into the [winter] season,” said RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship.But an intense recruitment effort aided by the board’s approval of pay hikes reversed RFTA’s fortunes. Nearly all 130 to 135 drivers needed for the peak winter season have been hired or lined up, and 22 or 23 mechanics are in place for 27 positions, Blankenship said. Additional mechanics are expected when students graduate from a technical school in Wyoming this winter, he said.”We really got after it and did everything we could think of.”A critical step was adding beds at the Burlingame affordable housing complex. RFTA had reserved 20 beds, and it scrambled to add another 20 when it became apparent that recruits were turning down job offers due to the high cost of housing.Others steps RFTA took included:• Posting help-wanted ads on numerous job-finder websites and publications around the country.• Recruiting mechanics at technical schools.• Increasing entry-level pay for new mechanics and drivers and adjusting the overall pay scale. Entry pay for drivers increased to $16.13 per hour while entry-level pay for mechanics was boosted to $17.70.• Offering referral bonuses and signing bonuses.A current RFTA employee can snatch a bonus of up to $750 by referring a new worker. The top referral bonus is paid when the new employee is a bus driver who already possesses a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and doesn’t need training. A $500 referral bonus is paid if the new worker doesn’t have a CDL and requires training. The referral bonus is only paid if the recruit sticks around for the season.New full-time seasonal drivers receive a signing bonus of $500 and new mechanics get $1,000, Blankenship said, but they must stick around for at least 60 days to be eligible for the perk.”The entire management team is deserving of tremendous credit for turning around an incredibly bleak outlook for the coming winter season,” Blankenship wrote in a memo to the RFTA board of directors. “At this point, unless RFTA experiences rapid turnover, staff believes that full winter service levels can be operated.”RFTA is currently in a better situation than it typically faces going into the winter. It has sometimes sought workers as late as January, Blankenship said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.