The public participation portion of Tuesday’s Turlock City Council meeting quickly turned into a plea for help as a legion of Turlock bus drivers took to the podium to voice their frustrations regarding what they regard as less than adequate wages.
Bus Line Service of Turlock employee Tom Martinez revealed that although he has been working for the bus company for approximately four years, he is currently making $9.70 an hour — an amount that jeopardizes his ability to support his three children.
“When I was hired, they promised us two raises a year, which we haven’t received,” said Martinez. “My oldest son works at Jack in the Box and is making more than me, even though my job requires special licensing, permits, and background checks.”
“I cannot raise a family on this,” continued Martinez.
Martinez was joined by Terry Means, who has been a bus driver for more than 14 years and is currently making $13 an hour. The driver reported that these unattractive wages are making it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain new drivers, a challenge that is demonstrated by the loss of five employees over the last three years.
“We will train them and then the minute they get their license, they are out of the door,” said Means. “They’ll go to Modesto and immediately start making $13 an hour or go to Newman, which is a lot smaller than Turlock and start making $13 an hour.”
Mayor Gary Soiseth voiced that despite the fact that Martinez and Means are both bus drivers in Turlock and wear uniforms that are embellished with the city’s name, they are not to be confused with City of Turlock employees.
“We sympathize with your situation and we value the service you provide for the city of Turlock and its residents,” said Soiseth, “but I think I speak for this city council when I say there are limited things we can do.”
“However, I will direct staff to explore if there are any options that we have,” continued Soiseth.
According to city transit manager Scott Medeiros, instead of using city employees to drive buses, the City of Turlock has subcontracted First Transit, a public transportation provider based in Ohio, since 2007. Through this company, the city has been receiving drivers and dispatchers for BLST and Dial-A-Ride Turlock services.
“We the city design the service and set the schedule and routes,” said Medeiros. “First Transit provides the drivers to carry out the day-to-day operations for our transit services.”
Medeiros revealed that the city is responsible for paying an hourly rate for service hours provided and a fixed cost to First Transit every month. Yet, what is decided in terms of employee wages is a decision made between the drivers and First Transit.
However, according to business representative for Teamsters Local Union 386 Gaylord Phillips, this is exactly where bus drivers have encountered a figurative road block.
During his presentation on Wednesday Phillips declared that his union has not been able to even get a representative from First Transit to come to the table in order to negotiate contracts, despite having negotiated with the company several times before.
“It just doesn’t make sense to be a unionized employee and making minimum wage, nor does it make sense to have skilled drivers hauling the citizens of Turlock around town and not being paid an adequate wage to do so,” said Phillips. “I can tell you that we have people driving packages around town that are making three times that money.”
“These are the kind of wages that you starve,” continued Phillips.