Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Transit Tuesday - otherwise known as 'fact of the day'

I didn't really want to argue one on one with KZ and his new blog on transit issues, but he parrots the oft-repeated statement that Port Authority workers are the highest paid in the nation. I't just too superficial a comparison to leave on its face. To be fair, he is not alone. You wouldnt have to look far to find a few quotes from folks claiming that the Port Authority has the highest paid drivers in the nation. Even the Post Gazette had this quote in an editorial saying that the Port Authority workers....:
"the highest top hourly wage of any metro area when adjusted for cost of living"
Top hourly wage? of ANY metro area. Really? I'd challenge to PG folks to find the reference that has adjusted wage levels for transit drivers for each and every metro area in the nation as they claim. Sure makes it sound like the local operator wages are off the chart when compared to everywhere else.

Here is the ranking of bus operator wages per hour for the major transit systems in the nation. I have put the Port Authority's ranking in red. The Source is something called the "National Transit Database" and if you want a full PDF version of the illustration you can click here. The full file has the individual trans agencies listed.

So is the Port Authority average wage on the high side, yup, but certainly not the highest by any means. Cut a few percentage points and the wage would drop a lot further in that ranking.

Here is the thing that goes unmentioned. Of all the transit agencies in the nation I bet the Pittsburgh area has had the lowest population growth in recent decades. Thus the Port Authority sufferes from an afflication of most industries in the region that are population dependent and thus have not had much growth in decades. I bet that if you compared the Port Authority to all other transit agencies, a smaller proportion of their current workers have been hired in the last 10 years than elsewhere. Why does that matter? I bet a lot of the transit agencies that have lower average wages are really places where they have a lot of junior workers whose wages are on the lowest part of their salary scale. Thus its not a fair comparison at all to say that one transit agency's entire compensation system is . Like a lot of things affected by our extreme demographic, this is one of them I would put good money on. If true, this type of ranking is saying nothing more than the Port Authority's workers are older and more senior than their colleagues working for other transit system. I am sure the Port Authority would love to get rid of its oldest and highest paid workers, but there are these little laws against age discrimination that would get in the way even if their labor contract didn't prohibit that selective type of layoffs.

This is a big issue for a lot of private sector industries as well, but is very much at issue in a lot of public sector workforces that derive their 'demand' from the population size. Lots of local school districts have some fairly senior workers as well, expecially compared to places in the South and West which have seen the fastest growth in recent decades. If you look at the full file, you will see a lot of those lowest paying agencies are in Florida or other places which have seen the highest population growth in the last decade.

So why do they keep getting away with the metric that the Port Authority's wages are 'highest'. First they don't compare themselves to the all transit agencies in the nation, only a subset of transit agencies around the country. Then they 'adjust' the salaries for regional cost of living differences using something I use often which is the ACCRA (now called COLI) cost of living index. That is fine for many things, but that index explicity states it is for higher income professional households who are likely to be choosing between different regions to live in. I think that disclaimer pretty much disqualifies it from applying it for blue collar bus operator wages whom I doubt are being recruited by transit agencies in other regions very often... It's just not the right metric to use in this case. Ironically it would be the right metric to compare Steve Bland's salary to other transit leaders and anyone truly considered professional 'management' at the Port Authority. Funny how this adjustment is not applied to the analysis of management salaries.

Even so, why not use that same 'adjustment' when looking at everyone else's wages and salaries. I bet you yourself would be shocked at how your wage comparesif adjusted by a similar means and compared to the same regions used to compare Port Authority operator wages. Most everyone in the region would be considered overpaid if we applied the same methodology for other occupations, something I doubt we agree with without deeper inspection.


Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

thanks for the analysis Chris!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

so if we follow thru completely with their logic we have the highest paid hamburger flippers when adjusted for the cost of living. I'm just a little shocked that this comparison may be a little skewed since it originally came out of a report issued by the former county exec. Jim Roddey and we all know his sense of fair play and love for public employees unions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 2:31:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

Chris is dead on balls once again. He must be from Bloomfield or something.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 3:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, I think you might be missing a link, so I couldn't directly access the NTD data that you used. For our analysis (available at http://www.alleghenyconference.org/PEL/PDFs/PortAuthorityContractComparison2007.pdf), we used the Transit Labor Update (2006 edition) prepared annually by John A. Dash & Associates (a data source cited by APTA President Bill Millar in testimony before Congress) as the source for the wage rates.

The top bus operator wage in the country at the time was in Boston at $26.55 per hour. San Francisco was #2 at $26.50. Pittsburgh's unadjusted wage rate was $22.13 per hour.

If you think that adjusting for variances in cost-of-living is unfair, ask yourself which would allow you to buy more housing, food, entertainment, transportation, etc. -- $55,000 a year in Boston (median home price of $366,100) or San Francisco (median home price $701,700) or $46,000 a year in Pittsburgh (median home price $125,200)?

The Economy League report that confirmed the findings of the PA Transportation Funding & Reform Commission listed both adjusted and unadjusted wage rates in the top 25 major metro areas so people can decide for themselves whether the comparisons are valid.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 6:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An additional point regarding "folks claiming that the Port Authority has the highest paid drivers in the nation."

Those folks include the members of the PA Transportation Funding & Reform Commission, as my blog post cites. Greatest Generation accurately alluded to the fact that Jim Roddey served on the Commission. Five of the nine members of the Commission were appointed by Gov. Rendell. Two others were Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, Rep. Keith McCall and Sen. Barry Stout. It was a bipartisan panel that also included Jeffrey L. Brooks, Sr.

And who is Jeff Brooks? The president of Transport Workers Union of America Local 234, the primary union for Philadelphia's transit system, SEPTA.

That's the group that issued a report saying that Port Authority driver wages are "highest in the U.S. when accounting for cost of living."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 6:27:00 PM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

so again ken if we use your logic on this then everything in this area is out of whack price wise.My attorney's fees should be one third of Boston and so on down the line. Well I guess you just better get on over to the nice folks at Highmark and tell them to price accordingly. Oh yea while Jeff Brooks was a member of the commision, the way the report should have been worded and I doubt very highly if he had any say so in that was that Pittsburgh housing costs are real low. so we skewed the numbers and said when adjusted for cost of living instead of for the average cost of a house in the CITY OF PITTSBURGH. Real truthful there Ken.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 6:58:00 PM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

It's funny how Pittsburgh housing costs get's compared to two city's on the seaboard (Boston,SF) maybe someone out there could build us an ocean and maybe just maybe the price of a house will be so expensive that we blue collar workers will have to move far far away and leave the city to the folks deemed worthy enough. I'm probably paranoid but I swear somebody out there doesn't think a blue collar worker deserves to live in his time zone let alone his city.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 7:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Home run Chris.

And what the heck does the composition of the commission have to do with anything? It's a status quo bunch, just like the folks that put together ACCD reports and similar tomes "authored" by the heads of the universities and the region's biggest employers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 9:02:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Ken, I think you know the National Transit Database. If you really don't I will email a link. It's their latest data.

"Selective" cost of living adjustment is not just unfair but about as biased as you get. What is the cost of living adjusted base fare for PAT. And by the logic at hand, PAT should be complaining about how high their cost of living adjusted cost of diesel is which is much higher than elsewhere as well. That is a silly argument of course, or at least Mr. Exxon would not pay it much heed. But these simplistic benchmarking exercise are just as confusing.

Right after it came out the state folks who released that TFRC report told me they used the COLI adjustment, if you have some other report showing highest I have not seen it. But the COLI is clear that it is for professional households making migration decisions, which just does not apply in this case.

You really don't want try and argue the $700K housing in SF argument I am pretty sure. How many transit workers in San Francisco have had to buy $700K homes and pay mortgages for amounts that high. Most of them are in the inverse situation of having homes that have appreciated much more than local households here. So that big median value is a benefit to them, a benefit that most here have not had with our low housing appreciation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 1:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize that it looked like I was trying to play games when I asked about the NTD data. I don't know what NTD data set contains the per-hour wage rate. Did you use Table 15 (Operators Wages) and divide the total operating wages by the total operating hours?

As for your broader point -- that adjusting salaries for the differences in the cost of living in different areas of the country unfair and biased -- we'll just have to disagree on that point.

A dollar goes further in terms of purchasing a given standard of living in Pittsburgh than it does in New York or San Francisco or Boston or Chicago or Washington DC or any of the other metro areas where transit operators have a higher hourly wage than in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 5:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And there it is

"... we'll just have to disagree on that point" ... because management/ACCD holds the upper hand and is turning the screws, so I don't have to prove that I'm right or admit I'm wrong.

Thursday, August 28, 2008 8:53:00 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

Why is the Allegheny Conference so involved with the attempted busting of ATU Local 85? Ask Dan Onorato. It's no coincidence that FRENCH Owned VEOLIA Transportation is getting all of the Port Authority's Access and Para Transit work. They also recently acquired Pittsburgh Transportation Group. If you follow the trail I'll bet it leads directly to the Allegheny Conference, The Allegheny Institute, and DAN ONA'RAT'O. Saddle up cause we aren't going down easy! I will be discussing this in more detail on the "real pittsburgh transit info" Blog

Thursday, August 28, 2008 2:58:00 PM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

Hi HO Silver thar Cowboy I am saddling up and gettin out my six shooter for them ther varmints at the conference and their FRENCH loving friends at Veolia.

Thursday, August 28, 2008 8:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what's the latest on the factfinders report? If the union and management agree to it, the contract situation is solved, isn't it?

Friday, August 29, 2008 7:35:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

The fact finders report will be reviewed by the Port Authority this week and then their BOARD of DIRECTED will put their rubber stamp on it one way or another. The Local 85 Executive Board will review the report on Thursday afternoon in a special meeting. Both parties have 15 days to accept or reject. If either one of them reject it's back to the drawing board.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 10:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand your remark about the PAT board of directors. They'll decide whichever way they want to; I assume public support will play a role in the decision as it should.

Will the union leadership be presenting the factfinder's report to their membership for approval? Or will they just decide? And if the members won't see it, why not?

Monday, September 01, 2008 9:44:00 AM  
Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

anonymous 9:44am:
what evidence is there that the PAT's board base their decisions at all on public support or opposition? no offense, but you seem to be a little naive about that board's behavior.

Monday, September 01, 2008 4:37:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

I think that when I call them the "Board of Directed" it's pretty self explanatory, they don't give a sh*t what the public says, or they wouldn't have just sat there and pretended to care during the public hearings when this system was being torn apart the way it was. They are a rubber stamp for what ever agenda is on the table.

How many dissenting votes in 44 years of Port Authority operations?

The fact finders report does not need approval of the membership to be accepted or rejected, however a contract offer from the Authority would need to be approved by the membership. Maybe the Authority will start negotiating.

Monday, September 01, 2008 5:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You both shoot off your mouths about the board not being responsive to the "public" yet THEY have a budget to pass and approve every year; the union hacks who run the ATU only care about their MEMBERS, period. They don't care about the public. If they did, they would work to curb absenteeism, permit more peak service (aka split or swing shifts), get rid of the ridiculous side-saddling that goes on when one of their members loses their CDL to drunk driving but doesn't lose their job. And they would agree to the factfinders report. But they won't. Because they only care about themselves, not the public.

I know who is responsive to the public, and it is not the ATU.

Monday, September 01, 2008 8:52:00 PM  
Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

anon 8:52:
well, the atu leaders are elected by the membership to represent the membership. (for the primary purpose of collective bargaining) that's kind of the whole point of a union. it's the elected government officials (and those they appoint to serve on public boards) who are supposed to represent us. i mean, if you want to get semantic.

i think the key thing at the end of cowboy neal cassady's post-- "Maybe the authority will start negotiating."

The whole fact finder thing is not a negotiable document. it either gets accepted or rejected. the point is, the fact that it had to go to a fact finder means the negotiations weren't moving anywhere.

and before you start blaiming the union for the stalled negotiations, there's no way that any of us who were not in those negotiations know what went down so there's no way you can categorically blaim that on the union.

Monday, September 01, 2008 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

to anonymous, (Steve Bland) I want you to know that local 85 "who you say is run by hacks" goes out of it's way to protect it's members and service for the riding public.

Before the last round of service cuts local 85 worked very hard with their schedule committees,proposed a round of service cuts (Which went unrecognized) to protect service for the riding public. Not "hack" away carelessly just to meet a percentage that didn't make any sense.

Why would we not want to curb absenteeism?

Why would we not want more peak service, or any more service for that matter?


P.S.keep on listening to Fred Honsberger, and by the way, it was the "BOARD of DIRECTED" who I'll guarantee, unanimously approved the DROP program for Paul Skoutelas and the 40 thieves.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 1:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cowboy Neal, how little you pay attention to your own union. There are more than a dozen union members currently working without their CDL. They move vehicles on PAT property so long as they don't take them out on the street for inspection runs. Really, you should check it out.

As for the absenteeism, the ATU challenges nearly every form of discipline that comes down against any of its members, no matter how bad their behavior is. How about tardiness (sharking)? A union member shows up late 15 times before getting disciplined (15 for pete's sake) and the union files a grievance EVERY TIME.

The union's "alternate plan" for service cuts was a joke. It actually ADDED jobs to the payroll. It is sort of like throwing a 4.5% wage increase on the table, with increased pension benefits, with looser work rules and calling it "bargaining".

And face facts, when Pat McMahon tells Marty Griffin and the PG unequivocally that ATU's members will NEVER give something up like retiree healthcare for new employees, that's not bargaining. That's giving an ultimatum. Or actually, just a really bad joke.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 1:13:00 PM  
Blogger Crystal Eastman said...

wow, so, is anonymous 1:13pm the same as the other anonymouses? cowboy neal may be a psuedonym (i hope anyway) but at least he's disclosing from which part of the stadium he's watching the race.

are you PAT managment anonymous? you should at least identify yourself as such if you are.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

A labor union does not pick and choose who to represent they represent all dues paying members agree or disagree with this fact it doesn't really matter a labor union is the most democratic system in the workforce today. And if you have a problem with absenteeism or lates perhaps mgmt needs to do a better job in screening applicants. Unlike mgmt who'll just shop their services elsewhere a union employee goes down when the ship sinks we have much more at stake. More than likely you're completely ignorant to what a strong union brings to a community in a standard of living whether you're union or not. I recommend reading some history books to understand the struggle people fought and died for so you could enjoy union benefits.(40 hr.wk. child labor laws equal pay healthcare min. wage laws ) this list could go on for days but more than likely you're way to ignorant to understand anyway and whether you believe it or not you need us way more than we need you.(STRENGTH IN NUMBERS) is what collective bargaining is about and all wealth is created thru labor remember that and you'll understand the struggle.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 8:19:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

To Anonymous (disgruntled middle management)

Really I checked it out and I partially stand corrected on the DUI issue. Under a dozen maintenance workers were brought in under agreement for the Port Authorities benefit. The agreement has since expired.

Sharking is contract language, weather you like it or not, it works both ways.

You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about when you say that the union's plan for service cuts was a joke, that plan had cuts no matter which way you slice it. In some garages around 8%. They were also done with the publics interest in mind trying to help people get where they needed to go. The cuts were done by a schedule department with one foot out the door and almost all on the DROP PROGRAM. Tell me what other leader like Pat McMahon charges his members to hand over job cuts to management.

Get it straight Pat McMahon is not in negotiations with Marty Griffin. He is in negotiations with idiots like you!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 9:48:00 PM  

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