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Summit Stage looking at more layoffs next month

Drivers unhappy with schedule changes; union and county are negotiating a new contract

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A wage freeze and job cuts are at stake as a local bus driver’s union engages in a tension-filled contract negotiation with Summit County. The Summit Stage currently employs 65 full-time drivers, though not all of them are members of the union.

“We started with the premise that a stage driver ought to be able to live, work and raise kids in Summit County,” said Bill Acuff, a negotiator with the union who was headed down to Denver Tuesday morning to meet with attorneys for the union. The local group, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1751, is affiliated with the National Amalgamated Transit Union, under the umbrella of the AFL CIO.

“There’s a wage freeze at issue … a lot of issues to be settled,” Acuff said.

Currently, the unionized drivers are working under an open-ended mediated labor agreement, subject to a renegotiation of a contract.

One of the biggest unanswered questions is how many drivers will be laid off when the Summit Stage cuts back its hours in early April. According to Acuff, it could be as many as 15 drivers, depending on exactly how the summer schedule shapes up.

Stage director John Jones acknowledged that there will be some layoffs, but he’s not yet sure how many. It may depend in part on how many drivers choose to resign over a radical change in scheduling.

For years, most Summit Stage drivers have had a four-day work week, a concession made by an earlier director in contract negotiations, he said.

But in the current economic climate, with county and town sales tax revenues in decline, the transit operation has to look for cost savings wherever it can. And that means switching most drivers to a five-day work week.

“I was hired for my ability to contain costs,” Jones said, explaining that he hired a consultant to look at schedules. The result: Switching to work schedules based on a five-day work week cuts 113 “dead” hours per week, for savings of $163,000, he said.

“The drivers are very dissatisfied … I don’t know how many will quit over this,” he said. “I’ve tried to work with this union. They simply don’t understand that we need to make these cuts,” Jones said. “I have the full support of the county commissioners and the county manager.”

The Summit Stage is funded by a sales tax spread across the county and local towns. As sales tax revenues plunged during the past year, the Stage took a hit in excess of $1 million. After years of steady increases, ridership numbers also dipped in the last 18 months.

Jones said his main goal is to maintain service at least at the levels offered last summer, when mid-day service levels were cut back to hourly in a move dating back to the middle of 2008.

“I don’t want to go any deeper into the riders … we may have to look at cutting administrative staff,” Jones said.

Acuff said he has questions about how some the Summit Stage’s operational budget has been used in the past few years. How that money is juggled internally could play a role in how much is available for personnel costs, he said.

Jones said he also has to plan ahead for capital expenses, including the acquisition of new buses. Federal subsidies are essentially frozen, and mileage on several Stage busses is approaching half a million miles, he said.

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8 Responses

  1. After two summers of cuts the Stage should have found other sources of revenue like advertising on the buses or in the shelters to end midday cuts in service! As taxpayers we voted to fund half hour service in 2002 by increasing the tax. If something is to be cut it should be late night service where there are fewer riders and which was not funded by the 2002 resolution. Many visitors to the county enjoy bicycling during the day and the midday cuts creates a backlog of those wishing to carry bikes on the buses.

  2. I am questioning as to how much Summit County is in dire straits. We have been perpetually told of sales tax revenues being down but have never been told as to how much the mill increases added to the county’s budget. Property taxes have not gone down, in reality they have gone up through increased property values and mil increases.
    I also find it fascinating that during all the cuts in services including the library, Summit Stage, Community Center, employee benefits and wages , snow removal, a 10% cut in all county department budgets that the Board of County Commissioners felt the need to reward themselves with a 35% salary increase.
    Quoting a November 8, 2006 Summit Daily newspaper article about Bill Wallace winning the election for County Treasurer, “As county commissioner Wallace made $51,827, according to the county budget office.”.
    Quoting another Summit Daily article dated November 16, 2009 regarding Dan Gibbs’ announcement of running for the county commissioner seat being vacated by Bob French, “Summit County commissioners earn about $70,000 annually”.
    This is an approximate increase of $18,173.00 or35.06% above the commissioner’s 2006 salaries. Why do we have put up with cuts in services and the commissioners get to give themselves an enormous wage increase?

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  4. Bus service to Leadville is the biggest boondaggle! Typical ridership is zero to 3 passengers per trip. This could be done in a van! This service is not supposed to cost Summit County any money.. but there is certainly wear and tear on the buses.. and there are two less buses available in the early morning and evening, one unavailable all day to replace any broken down buses in Summit County. I live in Summit County, pay taxes here, buy goods producing tax revenue for support of the Stage. When I was hired I was told I would report to Frisco, might work days or nights, any day of the week. Commuting to Leadville for the summer schedule, three days a week will cost a driver over $4000, not including their time. So it DOES end up costing Summit County.

  5. Drivers will spent approx 30 min in Leadville a day. The rest of the time they will be in Summit County. If they should get sick, or a family problem should come up or a child issue happens, they will have no transportation until they go back to Leadville to get their own vehicle. The fuel used by the drivers in a county car isnt the reason for this requirement. This was done for a different reason. What is it?

  6. Jones now argues that the 40-hour work-week caused the inflexibility to create a nasty 5-day schedule.

    However, when I was Union President, I helped negotiate the last contract. The Union wanted Summit County to provide workers with a step-increase, an annual raise for each additional year of tenure remaining as an employee of the Summit Stage. The county was not interested. So, instead, the county agreed to make us work more hours for an income increase to try to keep up with inflation, while almost eliminating over-time by hiring more low-income Extra Board drivers. The workers agreed to work two more hours per week to attempt to keep their housing and other lifestyle requirements, while being forced to resign from second jobs that were paying the mortgages for some drivers.

    On the Leadville commute, many bus drivers do not drive automobiles to work. Due to low wages, drivers walk or bicycle to work. Some do not own automobiles due to the other high costs of living in Summit County. In order to cope with dropping wages, I rode a bicycle sixteen miles a day to get to and from work last year, up until the middle of December.

    Under the shift bidding system, any driver, even one without an automobile, may be forced to get to Leadville somehow. There is only one driver who lives in Leadville who will be able to bid on the Leadville route, while four drivers are required to maintain the service. I calculate that the twenty-four mile bicycle commute is six hours per day and a twelve-hour hike from Copper Mountain, Frisco is eight more miles. Hitchhiking is virtually impossible at 4:00 AM, as well as being unpredictable delivery, dangerous, and illegal from the freeway.

  7. [...] Summit Stage looking at more layoffs next month Posted on March 24, 2010 by Bob Berwyn [...]

  8. Hi Bob:

    Glad to have discovered your blog, as I read your pieces when you were with the Daily. I’m Ex-Pat Ex-Lawyer, at http://www.abusivediscretion.wordpress.com, and I write about a lot of Summit County issues and politicians. I’ll be adding you to my blog roll. I recently discovered that the press release publishers over at the SDN are kind of resentful of us bloggers.

    DA Mark Hurlbert has gotten budget raises every year except 2009. To the writer who asked about when the property tax increase kicked in, it was 2010. So as soon as they had the money, the county spent it and gave Hurlbert an extra big increase since he missed out in 2009. All the while, crime filings were down as residents left the mountain communities, visitor numbers were down, etc.

    But his lawyers got their raises, and he runs around lying about being a fiscal conservative.

    As to the transit drivers, in this economy anyone should be happy with a “pay freeze.” To private sector workers and small business owners, that would be something to celebrate. Tax revenue is down because people’s incomes are down. They’re not frozen, they’re down.

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