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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Gainesville Regional Transit System bus drivers showed up unexpectedly to the Gainesville City Commission meeting Thursday to speak about their concerns with insufficient wages, being overworked and not being respected.

District 3 City Commissioner David Arreola, said members of the Amalgamated Transit Union voiced their grievances with their jobs at RTS. Arreola said it is probably in response to the announcement that the city recently lost 20 drivers and will begin reducing RTS services next week as a result.

The city was not scheduled to talk about RTS on the agenda, but the union members felt compelled to come speak in the public comment section, he said.

Arreola said he and other commissioners also voiced their displeasure not only with poor employee treatment, but also with the RTS services cut back.

“I definitely agree that many of our bus drivers are being underpaid and probably overworked if it is true that they are working over 12 hours a day,” Arreola, 27, said. “In those cases, they are absolutely being overworked.”

The decrease in routes is due to a lack of drivers, he said.

Arreola said the city is actively trying to hire for those positions in order to restore services to the level they were before. There are career and job fairs already going on in efforts to hire more transit operators, he said.

“The biggest thing is that people’s days are going to be tremendously affected, and as a commissioner, that is unacceptable to me,” he said. “I am very glad our staff has initiated the process to try and hire more of these transit operators.”

If every driver worked 12 hours a day for 7 days a week, RTS would still have more than unfilled 1,000 work hours, said Zefnia Durham, president of the Gainesville chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the union representing labor at RTS.

“We’ve had issues before, but I think it’s at an all-time low this particular time,” the 51-year-old said.

With the decrease in RTS workers, drivers are being called in to work overtime on days they previously had off, Durham said.

Only seven drivers out of 181 have secured their top-out pay, the highest amount they are eligible to earn per hour, which is just under $20, Durham said. Those who have been with their companies for more than six years should have top-out pay, yet there are veterans who have been working with RTS for more than 18 years without it.

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Terry Ivery, vice president of the Gainesville chapter of the union, said the starting pay for RTS bus drivers is $12.75. The majority of drivers currently make between $13.50 to $14.

Durham said he believes there is a need to enforce a plan of transparency for new workers in which they understand the progression in receiving raises. More people would be willing to work for RTS if they knew when they could expect a raise, he said.

RTS bus driver McRoberts Alphonse, 51, attended the meeting Thursday night and said the city keeps promising to work with RTS employees, but no one has actually helped them.

“I feel like we are all by ourselves,” he said.

Alphonse said he has been an RTS bus driver for 10 years and just last year received a raise to $15 an hour. He said he feels once someone has worked long enough with the city, they should receive their top-out pay, but the city of Gainesville has rejected almost everybody’s requests.

“In the next couple of months, if I don’t see RTS doing better, I may have to look for another job because it is hard to eat right now,” Alphonse said.

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