By COLIN STAUB
For the second time in under a year, Portland-area transit agency TriMet has raised its entry-level bus operator wage by roughly $4 per hour. New hires—represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757— will start at $25.24, and be eligible for a $7,500 sign-on bonus. That’s up from the previous $21.36 per hour starting wage and $2,500 bonus, implemented in September 2021. [And that itself was a raise from $17 per hour.]
Along with the increase for new hires, all current bus operators making less than $25.24 an hour will be bumped up to that minimum, a TriMet spokesperson told the Labor Press. Under the current union contract, they would hit that wage after 15 months on the job.
The wage increases are an incentive to address what TriMet calls the most severe operator shortage in its history. The transit authority needs to hire 300 more bus operators to get back to pre-pandemic staffing levels. As of March, TriMet had 1,168 bus operators.
TriMet cut service during the pandemic as ridership plummeted. Now, ongoing staff shortages have hampered efforts to return to normal service levels. In January, the agency had to reduce service on 20 bus lines because of the lack of drivers.
ATU Local 757 executive board member Bill Bradley says beyond wages, transit needs to become a more attractive career in terms of the work-life balance for employees. Transit worker schedules vary greatly, and unpredictable schedules and split shifts can be hard for workers with families and kids.
Assaults on drivers are also continuing to increase, Bradley says, which can make it a lot less attractive job. Local 757 hears daily via a text message alert system that attacks on members are occurring.
The current ATU/TriMet contract expires at the end of November, and bargaining will begin in the summer or fall.