The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority requested a bus stop near Fairfield Commons Mall. Wright State University Student Union shown here is currently the closest bus stop to the mall according to RTA's route map. Staff photo by Ty Greenlees
Photo: Staff photo by Ty Greenlees
Photo: Staff photo by Ty Greenlees

RTA's overtime spending down from past years

RTA union chief says days of drivers getting $100K ‘long gone’

Union and administration officials at the Dayton Area Regional Transit Authority say recent changes meant to curb overtime spending have likely placed six-figure paychecks for bus drivers in the agency’s rear-view mirror.

The top-paid Dayton RTA bus driver in 2012 was Richard Smith, who made $77,400. (Another driver’s pay was nearly doubled by a $42,000 award of back pay after an arbitrator re-instated her job.)

Smith’s salary might seem like a pretty good one. But it’s a significant drop from the $103,600 he made in 2009, due to his willingness to cover overtime shifts that year. Smith was not alone in his six-figures salary in 2009, nor was he the highest-paid. Smith and three others, all of whom received a base pay of $22.62 an hour, made more than $100,000 that year. The highest-paid driver in 2009 was Sharon Nash, who made $112,000. Last year, Nash made $47,200.

In 2012, Dayton RTA drivers still made $22.62 an hour, the bottom end of pay for drivers at Ohio’s top five public bus agencies. But a handful of top-earning drivers’ pay has dropped significantly as the agency has reduced overtime spending.

Records show that overtime spending at the Dayton RTA in 2012 was down by nearly one-third compared to three years before — $2 million 2012, compared to about $2.9 million in 2010. A closer look shows that some of that is offset by a $213,000 increase in payments made to bus drivers who basically sit at the RTA station on-call, ready to fill in for other drivers if necessary.

Meanwhile, payroll at the agency has grown about 2.6 percent to about $29.1 million over the same period. Today, Dayton RTA has about 640 employees.

Dayton RTA is Montgomery County’s public bus service, offering 29 routes and an estimated 10 million rides each year. More than half of its funding comes from a half-cent sales tax in Montgomery County. The rest comes from a combination of fares and grants from the federal and state government.

The Dayton Daily News last investigated overtime spending at Dayton RTA in 2009. At that time, the newspaper found that five bus drivers made around or more than $90,000. Agency leaders said at the time they were working to reduce overtime spending.

The newspaper recently requested four years’ worth of financial data to gauge how successful they’ve been. Some of the new policies seem to have effectively reduced overtime spending, the data show.

“We’re happy with the trends that we’re seeing in terms of costs and the way that things are going,” said Mark Donaghy, executive director of the Dayton RTA.

He predicted that would continue into 2013.

“Like all organizations, we’re going to try to continue to get better,” Donaghy said.

Ten of the 12 RTA employees who made more than $80,000 last year are managers or department directors. Only one is a bus driver: Selena Saunders, whose pay was boosted by a $42,000 one-time payment. The other non-manager is Stephen Mangold, a line operator in the agency’s maintenance department.

Tops in the organization remains Donaghy, who made just more than $189,000.

In 2008, 17 employees made more than $80,000. Eleven were bus drivers.

Glenn Salyer, president of the union that represents bus drivers and other RTA employees, said he doesn’t think drivers will be making $100,000 anymore.

“Those days are long gone,” Salyer said.

RTA management made issue of the handful of high-paid drivers during negotiations for the most recent labor contract as the two sides fought over finances. Union leaders acknowledged at the time that “some drivers made ‘a lot of money’ because they ‘live’ ” at the RTA facility, according to a May 2010 fact-finder’s report.

But the union retorted that Donaghy’s salary had spiked in recent years, growing from just less than $151,000 in 2006 to $175,100 by 2009, making a wage freeze for salaried employees pointless. Donaghy’s salary is $189,300 today.

The reason for the high overtime was a shortage of full-time drivers, the union said at the time. Salyer told the Daily News there was a spate of retirements that year, and it took awhile to replace them. All Dayton RTA bus drivers have commercial driver’s licenses and also must go through eight weeks of training, he said.

“Mark has hired a lot more drivers, therefore our drivers are not having to work all those extra hours and we have more people working,” Salyer said. “So, that’s a good thing.”

Besides hiring additional drivers, there are other factors for the reduction in overtime.

One is a tougher employee absence policy that limits sick days and more strictly polices extended absences. That has reduced absentee rates from a high of 29 percent to 8 percent, Donaghy said. RTA management also increased the use of on-call pay.

Another factor is a cultural shift.

“I think you’re also seeing a change in the generations,” Donaghy said. “Many of our employees today have no interest at all in overtime. They are in a two-income household and they have daycare issues.”

Donaghy expects in the coming years that the federal government will limit bus drivers to no more than 10 hours per business day, further reducing overtime. Dayton RTA currently has no cap on hours — bus drivers are only limited by their physical capabilities. Management has proposed a 12-hour maximum per day, both to save money and in anticipation of the federal limit.

The overtime that was awarded in 2012 shifted away from bus drivers toward other employees, many of whom are maintenance workers. RTA’s top overtime earner in 2012 was Ronald Hayes, a specialist in the maintenance department. Hayes made $26,100 in overtime, boosting his take-home pay to $77,620.

A close second was Jesse Billingsley, who makes $10.89 an hour as a transportation ambassador, a hybrid security guard/customer service position. He more than doubled his salary with $25,300 in OT, adding up to a total $49,200. That means he worked an average of 30 hours of overtime a week.

Billingsley is a good example of the kind of worker who tends to rack up a lot of overtime, Donaghy said.

“He was always willing to pick up shifts, especially when no one else was. So he was basically working seven days a week,” Donaghy said.

Donaghy said the increased overtime for the maintenance department is because of a state-funded construction project that took place last year. Overall, he expects overtime spending to continue to flatten out.

Employees such as Billingsley can create individual anomalies, but Donaghy said he’s more concerned about the bottom line.

“It’s always good to have people you know at a moment’s notice that will help you when you’re in a bind … but my position on overtime, generally speaking, is I’m most concerned about the overall expense and amount versus who gets it,” he said.