City coun­cil gives FAX bus driv­ers in­cen­tive time off

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Local - BY BRI­ANNA CALIX bcalix@fres­nobee.com Bri­anna Calix: 559-4416166, @Bri­an­naCalix

The Fresno City Coun­cil on Thurs­day voted to ap­prove a new union con­tract for FAX bus driv­ers that in­cluded raises and a new in­cen­tive time-off pro­gram, but not without a con­tentious de­bate over city-wide em­ployee per­for­mance and ac­count­abil­ity.

FAX bus driv­ers were caught in the cross hairs of a dis­pute among coun­cil mem­bers on how to im­prove em­ployee per­for­mance and re­ward high-per­form­ing work­ers who de­serve it.

The new Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 1027 con­tract in­cluded 2.5 per­cent wage in­creases in 2018 and 2019 and a new in­cen­tive time-off pro­gram. The in­cen­tive time­off pro­gram in the con­tract al­lows em­ploy­ees to earn a day off af­ter work­ing about 440 hours, or about 12 weeks.

Other bar­gain­ing units — in­clud­ing city blue col­lar work­ers, white col­lar work­ers, elec­tri­cians and pro­fes­sional work­ers — al­ready have the op­tion to use the in­cen­tive time off.

The new con­tract was ap­proved on a 5-2 vote, with Garry Bre­de­feld and Steve Bran­dau vot­ing against it. Bre­de­feld, who rep­re­sents Dis­trict 6 in north­east Fresno, said he sup­ported the raises for bus driv­ers but not the in­cen­tive time off.

“That is a pro­gram that I think is prob­a­bly the most waste­ful, mis­guided and reck­less pro­grams en­acted here,” he said. “We’re giv­ing city em­ploy­ees an ad­di­tional one week of leave time just to show up for work. We are elected to be good ste­wards of pub­lic money. We need to hold em­ploy­ees who don’t do their jobs ac­count­able. … It’s an ab­so­lute waste of tax­payer money.”

Bre­de­feld es­ti­mated the pro­gram al­ready costs the city over $1.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally if all em­ploy­ees who are el­i­gi­ble use it. If other unions, such as po­lice and fire, de­mand the pro­gram be in­cluded in their con­tracts too, the yearly cost could grow to $2.5 mil­lion, Bre­de­feld said.

Coun­cil­man Luis Chavez, how­ever, said the pro­gram es­sen­tially pays for it­self be­cause it re­duces city costs for pay­ing over­time. Chavez pointed out that bus driver salaries don’t come from the gen­eral fund, so sav­ings couldn’t be al­lo­cated to ar­eas such as pub­lic safety and parks. He also noted that much of the bus driv­ers’ time off is pro­tected by fed­eral and state reg­u­la­tions.

“The job it­self in­her­ently has haz­ards built into it,” he said in an in­ter­view with The Bee. “When we eval­u­ate em­ployee con­tracts, we some­times want to do it one-size-fits-all, but to me, ev­ery con­tract is based on in­di­vid­ual mer­its. This in­cen­tive pro­gram might not work for an­other bar­gain­ing unit. In my view, it did work for this spe­cific one.”

On the other hand, Bran­dau, who rep­re­sents north­west Fresno, op­posed the raises for bus driv­ers. When he was a new coun­cil mem­ber, bus driv­ers’ per­for­mance was an is­sue, and he said he hasn’t seen much im­prove­ment. Dur­ing Thurs­day’s closed ses­sion, the coun­cil de­bated for hours about how to im­prove per­for­mance, but the re­sults were in­con­clu­sive, he said.

“I’m not above giv­ing any­body a raise that de­serves a raise,” Bran­dau said. “But coun­cil is in­ca­pable or un­will­ing to ad­dress rais­ing per­for­mance stan­dards.”

Paul Capri­oglio, who rep­re­sents Dis­trict 4 in east-cen­tral Fresno, said the coun­cil’s per­for­mance con­cerns aren’t just about bus driv­ers, it’s about em­ploy­ees city­wide. He urged his coun­cil col­leagues to join a sub­com­mit­tee to eval­u­ate per­for­mance stan­dards across the board.

Al Muñoz, the in­terim pres­i­dent of ATU Lo­cal 1027, said the coun­cil mem­bers’ con­cerns about bus driv­ers’ time off isn’t unique to Fresno, not­ing the state and fed­eral pro­tec­tions. He won­dered why coun­cil mem­bers didn’t ques­tion the in­cen­tive time-off pro­gram for other bar­gain­ing units.

“When they want our sup­port (in pol­i­tics), we’re there for them,” Muñoz said. “But when we need their sup­port, where are they?”

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