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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
For Golden Empire Transit District's administrative staff, a 2 percent raise means their performance was less than satisfactory.
And yet that's the only offer GET is making to its more than 250 striking bus drivers and mechanics in the first year of a proposed two-year contract extension.
As details of the more-than-three-week-old labor dispute become increasingly public, members of Teamsters Local 517 are questioning what they see as an inequitable system of pay increases.
GET's nonunion employees can earn merit raises as high as 5 percent a year as part of a program that awards pay increases according to the results of annual performance evaluations.
The system awards 3 percent raises to administrative employees who met expectations. Workers can earn larger or smaller raises depending how much they exceed their goals, or conversely, fail to meet them.
GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said the comparison is irrelevant because the Teamsters have chosen to forego merit raises in favor of locked-in pay increases.
Negotiations between the parties took place for more than an hour Wednesday. They are scheduled to resume Thursday.
Between 2012 and 2013, GET's 10 highest-paid administrative employees received raises averaging more than 6 percent, according to the government employee wages website transparentcalifornia.com. That 6 percent takes into account one person who took a 2 percent pay decrease, and at least two people who the district says got a pay jump because they cashed in vacation time.
The district's highest paid employee, CEO Karen King, got a 4.4 percent raise that raised her total pay, including benefits, to $252,297.65, the website reported.
By contrast, GET said this week its latest offer to the Teamsters includes raises of 2 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year. The district has rejected the union's request for 4 percent-per-year pay increases for the next three years.
GET bus drivers say it's not fair some administrative employees can get raises double what they're being offered.
"Why can't we get a 5 percent raise like they get?" asked Tammy Romo, who has driven buses for GET for 14 years. "I don't think it's right. We're the ones out there getting spit on, hit, yelled at."
Deidre Atkinson, a 21-year GET bus driver who contacted The Californian about the public employee pay website, said "Three percent certainly isn't asking too much."
Hayden, the GET spokeswoman, said the transit agency's proposed step increases -- based on length of service plus the 2.5 percent raise offer -- can amount to as much as 17 percent, she said.
"At some level, it's comparing apples to oranges," Hayden said.
"It's (unionized employees') choice to set an increase level for everyone."
A Teamsters official declined to comment Wednesday.
GET asserts its pay levels are in line with similar organizations. But it acknowledges comparing its drivers' and mechanics' pay against different public organizations, and its administrative staff against a separate set of private and public agencies.
But while GET compares unionized workers' pay by itself, it hires an outside company to rate administrative compensation.
GET's starting pay for bus drivers it considers full-time is $14.80 per hour, while "flex" drivers start at $13.55.
At Kern's county-run bus system, starting pay is $11.65 per hour, while Stockton's bus system starts drivers at $14.40 and Fresno's begins at $16.13, according to GET.
Hayden said such comparisons show GET's pay scale is about in the middle of what drivers in similar communities get paid.
The administrative pay comparisons were not available Wednesday.
The previous three-year contract between GET and the Teamsters expired in March but was extended through July 14. The district's unionized employees walked off the job July 15.