RFTA ups pay to ease worker shortage
October 12, 2006
Bus drivers and mechanics at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority got a pay raise Oct. 1 as part of the agency’s effort to overcome an acute labor shortage.Starting pay for bus drivers increased from $15 per hour to $16.13. The top end of the pay scale climbed from $20.58 to $22.56, according to RFTA Chief Executive Office Dan Blankenship. The amount of the raise varied, depending on years of service.Pay for entry-level mechanics was increased to $17.70 per hour while top end was boosted to $30, according to Kenny Osier, RFTA’s director of operations.The adjustments were made after RFTA completed a salary survey of similar positions in the region. RFTA’s management targeted wages in the 75th percentile among the entities surveyed.Blankenship said the raises were given in October rather than waiting until 2007 to assist recruiting efforts for the winter and to try to prevent other workers from leaving.The agency has suffered a rash of defections in recent months, Blankenship said. There are a variety of reasons for losses, including the explosion of high-paying jobs in the energy industry in Garfield County and construction in Pitkin and Eagle counties, he said.RFTA lost 18 year-round drivers with between one and four years’ experience over the last seven months. It lost four mechanics as well.It currently has about 120 drivers and needs another 20 for winter, according to Kent Blackmer, co-director of operations. Osier said he has 19 mechanics and needs 26.The success or failure in recruiting mechanics will directly affect RFTA’s service this winter. If there aren’t enough people to work on the buses, the hours the buses can be on the road must be reduced, Blankenship said.As a contingency plan, RFTA is looking at eliminating valley bus service between 12:15 a.m. and 6 a.m. However, no cuts will be made until the employment scenario is re-evaluated in mid-November.Arnie Mordkin, a member of RFTA’s board of directors, opposed eliminating the late-night service from a public safety concern. “That’s the booze run,” he said.Mordkin said he didn’t want to see partiers driving because they couldn’t ride a bus.Although the worker shortage is worse than usual, RFTA officials remain hopeful they can fill their ranks. In addition the Oct. 1 raises, most employees will be eligible for merit pay raises of around 4 percent in 2007, Blankenship said. The agency also offers bonuses for everything from safety to sticking around through the season.Even with better pay, the Roaring Fork Valley’s high cost of living still presents a big hurdle to attracting workers, numerous RFTA managers concurred at a board of directors meeting Thursday. Osier said the hourly wage means little when prospective recruits investigate prices.”They take a look at our housing and say, ‘Oh, my God,'” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.