This again.

As you know, Burghers, the Port Authority of Allegheny County is a rickety, dinky ship being held together by rusted nails, glue, wads of Fruit Stripe gum, prayers, and spit — taking on water, preparing to sink to the murky depths of the Mon any. second. now.

Oh, look, there it goes.

A moment of silence, please, for the county-owned public transportation agency that thinks it can stay afloat under the weight of a $155 million payroll, half of its budget, thanks in part to such inflated paychecks and poor overtime management that one driver actually made $131,000 last year. Four others made over six figures. 50 made more than $80,000.

[thud]

The last time I wrote about the ridiculousness that is the payroll of the Port Authority in 2006, the highest-paid operator made over $90,000. That is a HELL of a cost-of-living increase!

The last time that I, a college-graduate with student loans, made $131,000 in one year was never.

I assume that in order to make $131,000 driving a bus, you have to work every single day of the year for 12 hours a day. That’s still roughly $30 an hour. To drive a bus.

[thud]

Eff this college degree. Hard.

Also, please, Steve Bland, shut the hell up about how you’re going to cut staff and cut service and make all of Allegheny County suffer with those cuts and those threatened seven dollar suburban fares unless the State ponies up the $50 million you need to close your budget gap, because if you’re looking for sympathy, you won’t get it from ‘Burghers, not it in light of your payroll, and if you’re looking for a place to throw the blame, why don’t you gather up your entire organization and look it in the mirror.

Also:

The deficit is “not a cost problem. It’s not an expense problem. It’s a revenue problem,” Mr. Bland said.

OMG. LOL.




81 Comments


  1. bucdaddy
    June 17, 2010 1:28 am

    Catfight!



  2. former city worker
    June 17, 2010 2:23 am

    I worked downtown the last time the union contract was up. They tried to cut costs. They went the state arbitrators. The union would not allow any health care cost sharing (meaning they would have to pay some of the cost). I remember trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do if they went on strike. Should the OT mess be cleaned up? Of course! Would the union allow it? No, of course not. They won’t even go for their members paying for their healthcare!

    And before you jump on me for being anti-union, I am *in* a union. The USW, in fact. And no, I am not a steel worker. Of course, our little sub group is not allowed to strike. Wouldn’t it be nice if the driver’s union had the same clause? I have also completed 4 and a half years of college, worked jobs where you need a college degree, and those that you do not. And I’ve managed to do that without working fast food!
    Some of the unions are out of control. They need to live in the real world, not the fantasy land they’re in now. Do they stop to think about how they’ll get paid if PAT fails and they’re all released? I’m lucky, my industry and company are not going to go out of business and are making money, even in this economy. Those unions for companies who simply cannot afford the costs they’re adding need to decide to take a cut, whether it be in pay or percentage of raise, before they force them out of business. Unions are not all bad, nor are they all good. Unfortunately, some of them are not in touch with reality.



  3. Bram R
    June 17, 2010 2:30 am

    Jack Napier said: “Just because you can take something to its breaking point doesn’t mean you should actually break it.” Probably the wisest thing I’ve read in a comment thread in a long while.

    The right to organize and to bargain collectively is sacrosanct; it is a basic human right. What, are you going to tell people who they can and cannot talk to and cooperate with, are you not going to prevent them from proposing changes, holding signs or walking off their jobs? So I’m VEHEMENTLY not on board with KGC and others saying that allowing public sector workers to unionize is some kind of grave “mistake”.

    However we do need leaders with the guts and the political skill to stare down a union and say, “No way Jose, go ahead and strike, see how far it gets you.” That’s what made Pete Flaherty our last truly great mayor. Because quite aside from the philosophical merits, in the end the public will NOT support bus drivers making $120,000++ with a suite of benefits nobody else can hope to achieve, if it’s that or else they can’t get to work.

    One problem is arbitration — instead of a big horrible problem (a strike) that’s over relatively quickly and actually resolves something, instead we get zero pesky disturbances but a system that gets worse and worse and more intractably worse over time. Another problem is fatcat management — even if technically, cutting (and I mean actually cutting) management salaries, facilities and other perks don’t make much of a dent in the situation, it would DEFINITELY help the rough medicine go down better with the unions, AND if that doesn’t work, put the public in a better mood to accept a standoff with blue collar workers.

    Then and only then — once we start getting our own house in order — will we honestly have a compelling case to do what we’ll ultimately need to do, which IS demand more dedicated funding from the state. Because transit is only going to get more ridiculously more important to the life of a city and region.

    End pedagogy.



  4. Tony
    June 17, 2010 4:53 am

    Well the Port Authority may be a sinking ship but at least we get a swell new tunnel under the Allegheny River while it’s happening.



  5. Museumpro
    June 17, 2010 9:06 am

    Mike,
    They have a new membership chair and she’s very good, very proactive. I didn’t know anyone and applied blind and got a call back a week later. If you don’t hear anything please contact me at ngiguere99@yahoo.com



  6. Noelle
    June 17, 2010 9:07 am

    Sorry Mike, it’s Noelle above (also Museumpro). I changed it to comment with both my email addresses for the zoo brew contest and forgot to change it back.



  7. Toad
    June 17, 2010 10:02 am

    @ Rachel: Please, let us know, what the incorrect information was, so that you may so inform us.

    Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Without train/LRV access into at least the East End, PAAC will go down in flames, regardless of pension, health care, etc. costs.

    Many people do not realize that the majority of money for capital improvements, e.g. river tunnel, comes from a separate budget line and cannot be used for salaries, health benefits, etc. You can argue all you want about whether that money was used properly, but you’re comparing apples to oranges if you say that money should have been used to fund the pension and benefit deficits.



  8. Rob Carr
    June 17, 2010 10:40 am

    Overtime is screwy. Along with base salary, there are things like health care, etc. that PAT has to pay. There’s also the cost of training, etc.

    There are times when it’s cost-effective to have drivers make time and a half rather than hire a new person. When there’s a hiring freeze, it’s impossible to hire that needed worker.

    How much time is that $131,000 driver spending at work? Even allowing for double-time and a half on holidays, the man has no life outside of work.



  9. Scott
    June 17, 2010 11:12 am

    While I don’t agree with the tone, I do think the folks here who have raised concern about the half-baked fingerpointing related to this topic are totally correct. The PAT problems are fair game, for sure, but randomly assigning blame is reckless in my opinion, especially when readers of this blog have a well-intended history of agressively confronting whomever Ginny points the finger at. Naming names is fine, but not if they’re not the ones at fault. These folks have careers, families, etc.

    If you’re going to insert yourself into local politics, and let’s face it that’s exactly what “That’s Church” is doing, I think you have an obligation to know the facts.

    I really enjoy Ginny’s writing, but it seems some lines are being crossed of late. I’m sure I’ll get flamed for this, but it needs to be said.



  10. Monty
    June 17, 2010 11:15 am

    Vaginny?



  11. Mike
    June 17, 2010 11:24 am

    @Scott

    I think this kind of discourse is absolutely healthy for our community (there are not many outlets for it). While it certainly is opinion laden, it airs out some important issues and readers should be able to see some lines btw fact and fiction. Maybe highlighting where u think lines have been crossed would help?



  12. Virginia
    June 17, 2010 11:39 am

    Scott,

    You previously said:

    “If you’re going to throw molotov cocktails all over this situation, at least get the facts straight to point the blame at the guilty party.

    The problem is the union. They have a contract in place that dictates their payroll/salaries/overtime. The Port Authority is merely trying to limp along while dragging this huge burden along every step of the way.

    Flame the drivers union before 1000 blog readers start calling the admin office demanding blood. It isn’t their fault.”

    I just want to say that my opinion is that the ultimate fault lies with the admin office and your opinion is that the ultimate fault lies with the union.

    Do you know that since this post I have had emails claiming that the union reps tried to negotiate cost cutting measures and that the admin declined? Doesn’t seem likely, but that’s the emails I’ve received.

    I’ve also received emails that the admin wanted to cut costs and the unions refused.

    Which is true? Who can know?

    My opinion is that even if the unions are being greedy, the ultimate fault for the state of PAT lies with management.

    I haven’t asked my readers to flame Steve Bland’s office and I can pretty much promise you that 1,000 of them haven’t. If you’re sore about what happened with Doug Shields, all I can tell you is that I promise you, you don’t know the whole story and I am not at liberty to share it, but if you did, you would probably take my side and agree that I did what needed to be done for Amy. And I did it at her request.



  13. burghgal
    June 17, 2010 11:53 am

    I’ll preface my post that my family were all steel and railroad union employees.. however..

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/union_boss_hog_in_hooker_scam_rznUkXchOvSCUBALLAmz9J



  14. Scott
    June 17, 2010 12:07 pm

    Ginny,

    Girl, its your blog….do what works for you.

    And no, I’m not sore about Doug Shields.

    I stand by my comment. I know you mean well, but ignorance is bliss.



  15. Joe K.
    June 17, 2010 1:13 pm

    One thing to remember about unions: It takes two parties to sign those contracts, so you can’t just blame one side.

    We also have to distinguish between public and private sector unions, the public sector doesn’t face the same market pressures.

    Someone mentioned we should just have a big-ass strike instead of all these little tweaks along the way, I think that might be good, I would use the NHL lockout as an example of a work stoppage that made the business better.



  16. Echo
    June 17, 2010 1:40 pm

    I going to repeat the question asked earlier to see if anyone can answer it: What happened to all the drink tax money? It was pitched as a way to solve this problem. If I remember correctly, there was a huge surplus. Where did it all go?

    Did they follow in the footsteps of Fast Eddie Rendell and Company who pitched the idea of using casino revenue for property tax relief only to turn around and use it for other purposes?



  17. Mike
    June 17, 2010 2:27 pm

    @Echo-

    The drink tax money is still available. I don’t know how much. It was the County’s way of providing dedicated transit funding.

    The state’s dedicated funding, however, fell through. The state planned on being able to toll I-80 to fund transit, but the plan was rejected by the fed’s because tolls collected on federal interstates have to be spend on those interstates.

    The current drink tax is not enough to cover this revenue loss.



  18. Mike
    June 17, 2010 2:31 pm

    BTW… I don’t know if this is inappropriate blog etiquette (and someone tell me if it is), but I have an opinion piece regrading this coming out in the PG sometime in the next few days. Seems like there’s a lot of interest and I would welcome feedback (but it must be constructive).

    That way you can also find out who I cam and send me nasty emails. I don’t like this anonymous stuff too much.



  19. Oracle of Delphi
    June 17, 2010 3:44 pm

    If you folks would only look at the Port Authority as a democrat party jobs scam, then it would all make sense.

    Check their endorsements for Election Day. Nuff’ said.



  20. Echo
    June 17, 2010 3:49 pm

    Thanks for clearing that up Mike. I’m looking forward to you piece in the PG. I hope you point out the contrast between the salaries and benefits of our local port authority workers and those of the rest of the country adjusted for cost of living. Additionally, I hope you compare the salary and benefit packages of our port authority union members and compare them to workers in the public sector.



  21. Mike
    June 17, 2010 3:53 pm

    @Echo

    I only had 800 words… and I tried to focus on consensus building. But I hinted at some of these issues and I welcome additional feedback after it’s published.



  22. HappyBurghtroll
    June 17, 2010 5:29 pm

    While I agree with most of you. Please realize that some of us rely heavily on public transportation. I’m a child of organized Labor, but I agree with the person that said Bus drivers should not make more than a cop, fireman or teacher. They are driving a bus. it’s not rocket science.
    Remember that a lot of that income is overtime. They are shorthanded in mechanics and working buses. Just ask anyone that takes a bus from the almost non-existent Collier Garage.

    Upper Management is just as much to blame. Don’t forget the fancy digs for Bland & Co in the old Gimbels bldg. Buku bux in rent money. When they OWN a perfectly servicable bldg in Manchester. And what about marketing? they spent how many millions on the RideGold campaign? Hello?

    Somewhere there is an Audit done by Jack Wagner that ppints a lot of this stuff out. Does anyone have a copy of that?



  23. Luke Steelerstahl
    June 17, 2010 9:44 pm

    Regarding the drink tax money (that I don’t pay since I never pay my bar tab):

    Onorato is still collecting it. He refuses to spend it on the Port Authority until they get their costs under control. That is not a new stance, as he said he would do that before the tax even passed. The courts decided that Onorato cannot use that money on other transit improvements (building or repairing roads).

    So the money sits. If the Port Authority cuts costs, they get the money. If not, they don’t.



  24. Jen
    June 18, 2010 8:44 am

    The management is ABSOLUTELY primarily responsible for this mess. Not only did they cave to union pressure for unsustainable compensation and retirement packages, but THEY GAVE THEMSELVES unsustainable compensation and retirement packages. Maybe some of you remember this little gem from the PG in 2007:

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07078/770635-147.stm

    “The financially troubled transit agency’s highest pension recipient, by far, is Paul Skoutelas, 53, another former CEO, who is collecting $8,566 a month.

    He worked for the authority for 18 years, but his lifetime pension is based on 29 years of employment, a result of a soon-to-be-ended policy that enabled him to buy 11 years of service with public agencies in New Jersey, Florida and Bucks County and roll them into the authority’s more lucrative plan. Mr. Skoutelas paid $181,530 to “buy back” his prior time.

    In addition, Mr. Skoutelas implemented a controversial and since-suspended “Deferred Retirement Option Program” in 2002 that enabled dozens of management people, including him, to begin collecting their pensions while still working and investing them in special accounts until leaving the agency.”

    Read the whole article. THESE GUYS ARE CROOKS.

    Not only that, THESE GUYS ARE PHENOMENALLY STUPID. Let’s not forget Pittsburgh’s TWO tunnels to nowhere (the North Shore Connector and the Wabash Tunnel). These financial disasters occurred because MANAGEMENT was incapable of performing a simple cost benefit analysis, or properly planning ahead for cost overruns, or saying NO to “free” federal money that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to use.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09074/955761-52.stm
    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06115/684810-53.stm

    Sorry, but I don’t have sympathy for any of these guys, management or union. You can’t expect the citizens to keep paying for your wild spending spree forever.



  25. squarian
    June 18, 2010 2:17 pm

    The county needs mass transit and the PA isn’t going to be able to provide it. Is there an alternative which does not involve the Harrisburg criminal conspiracy which pretends to be a legislature? If not, it’s probably not a real alternative.

    And if the county doesn’t have a mass-transit alternative to the PA, then how are the minimum-wagers going to get downtown so they can clean the offices and wait the tables of Downtown lawyers, bankers and politicians?

    Like most things in Pennsyldicament, short of an outright revolution the status quo wins by default. Aux barricades, mes freres.



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  27. SusanV
    June 21, 2010 2:47 pm

    Regarding the drink tax and if they don’t cut costs, they don’t get it…

    Well, if they don’t cut costs, don’t get the drink tax money, WHO does get it?

    Is Onorato going to throw a giant kegger for PGH and give us all free beer? Or will it be diverted to something else (ala Johnstown Flood Tax)?



  28. Ken Zapinski
    June 21, 2010 4:02 pm

    It’s easy to blame “management.” But the “management” that got the Port Authority into its current mess is NOT the management in place now. Virtually every decision that triggers complaints (valid or not) — downtown HQ, river tunnel, labor contracts, management pension — was made before CEO Steve Bland was brought on board to fix things. And he can only do what the law allows.

    Don’t like the downtown HQ? It would cost more to break the lease and bring the authority’s old North Side building up to code.

    Don’t like that 10 cents of every $1 the Port Authority receives goes to pay retiree healthcare for which retirees pay virtually nothing? Don’t like that the $32 million a year transit retiree healthcare bill is four times larger than Philadelphia’s even though that system is three times larger? Too bad. The PA state constitution prohibits you from doing anything about it.

    Current “management” was able to get a major concessionary contract from the union in 2008, but it can only address future retirees and future benefits, not those already granted. Again, that pesky constitution thing.

    You write on your pittsburghmagazine.com blog: “Part of running a business, any business, is managing your payroll costs.” That’s exactly what the Port Authority is doing with its current proposal. When 75% of your budget is wages and benefits, the only way to make major cuts is to cut people. And if you don’t have bus drivers, you can’t operate bus routes. It’s similar to a restaurant cutting back its hours if it can’t afford to stay open quite as long. The only difference is the Port Authority’s cuts make the front page.

    No big-city transit agency has done more to improve itself over the past four years than Port Authority (including freezing management’s pay.) And that assessment comes from someone Saturday’s PG described as “an outspoken critic of the authority’s past financial practices.”

    What does the community want, and what is it willing to pay for?

    Ken Zapinski, Allegheny Conference



  29. squarian
    June 21, 2010 5:05 pm

    Ken Z writes “what does the community want, and what is it willing to pay for?”.

    In a functional polity, that would be a reasonable question to ask. Ordinarily, some kind of engagement in debate and opinion-making would filter various competing communal interests, until either consensus was reached or one alternative prevailed over the others. In most places this particular question eventually narrows to mass transit vs six-lane highways, with the affluent burbs generally pushing the later.

    Politics in PA and this region are too disfunctional for this process to happen here, so instead of a decision one way or the other, we’re left with entropy: highways and mass transit systems both gradually crumbling.

    With transportation infrastructure as with other issues, PA is suffering the consequences of a broken political life. The only thing keeping it from biting us harder is that at the moment, our sunbelt competition is suffering even more.



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