Winnipeg Transit bus maintenance backlog led to big overtime bills for mechanics
Engine troubles in 2015 led some Winnipeg Transit mechanics to earn six-figure salaries
Seven Winnipeg Transit mechanics earned six-figure salaries in 2015 as a result of the severe engine maintenance backlog that took buses off the street and disrupted schedules for the city service.
Overtime costs due to the backlog significantly drove up compensation earned by more than a dozen transit mechanics and technicians in 2015. One mechanic who regularly earns about $60,000 took home $162,000 last year, a 170-per-cent pay bump.
His compensation was only $12,000 less than the $174,000 salary earned in 2015 by Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop, one of Winnipeg's longest-serving department directors.
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The union that represents most transit workers said the city could have hired more mechanics with the cash it spent on overtime premiums.
"Of course it's not totally on overtime, but a good portion of it is," said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president John Callahan, speaking in a telephone interview from Silver Springs, Md.
"If you consider the amount of overtime that is put in, if you did the numbers, that would pay for a market supplement and some more staff, and they would still be saving money."
The city said its 2015 maintenance backlog was due to problems with a diesel engine manufactured by Cummins, a multinational company based in Columbus, Ohio.
Callahan said it was also due to a shortage of mechanics. He said 10 of 86 mechanic positions remain vacant and 32 are filled by apprentices.
As a result, the city cannot fix bus engines as quickly as it would like and has to farm some of the work out to a Cummins plant in Winnipeg.
City council public works chairwoman Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said the city can't hire more mechanics until it expands a maintenance garage, ideally with the help of federal funds dedicated to transit.
Callahan said while that's partly true, the city won't be able to hire more mechanics until it pays better wages.
"They are not competitive enough to attract people," he said, adding private-sector mechanics earn $5 more an hour than city mechanics. "In this day and age, you have to be competitive, because there is such a shortage of tradespeople to begin with."
Simply adding more shifts to the existing transit garage won't help either, he said.
"People don't want to be working evening shifts. They don't want to work midnights and weekends," he said. "Those are the challenges — because we work 24/7, it's a real barrier to get folks to work those types of shifts."
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he's pleased transit mechanics worked exceptional hours to clear the maintenance backlog in 2015, as transit riders expect buses to be on road. He said he would welcome any plan to reduce the reliance on overtime if that did not impact transit service.
Winnipeg Transit spent $54 million on bus maintenance in 2015, city spokeswoman Alissa Clark said. Of that money, $980,000 was spent on overtime, she said.
With files from Jillian Taylor