The highest paid city government employee of Madison, Wisconsin, last year wasn't the mayor. It wasn't the police chief. It wasn't even the head of Metro Transit. It was bus driver John E. Nelson, says the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Nelson earned $159,258 in 2009, including $109,892 in overtime and other pay.
- He and his colleague, driver Greg Tatman, who earned $125,598, were among the city's top 20 earners for 2009, city records show.
They're among the seven bus drivers who made more than $100,000 last year thanks to a union contract that lets the most senior drivers who have the highest base salaries get first crack at overtime, says the Journal.
And there was a lot of overtime -- $1.94 million last year, $467,200 more than the bus system budgeted for and the most ever for the system -- as employees exhausted sick leave and took advantage of unpaid leave through the federal Family Medical Leave Act, officials say:
- The high salaries for Metro bus drivers come as Metro's ridership continues to grow and the system ranks high among peers according to a 2009 state audit.
- Metro, which increased fares last year, carried 13.58 million riders in 2009, the second highest total in 40 years.
In the past, drivers have defended the pay, saying they earn it by working long hours that can create hardships on families. Also, the job requires navigating an oversized vehicle through city streets and dealing with sometimes uncivil riders and other challenges, they say.
The bus drivers' contact, which calls for pay up to $26.02 an hour, expired at the end of December and the sides are now in negotiations.
Overtime is high for several reasons, says Metro general manager Chuck Kamp:
- Metro employees are exhausting sick leave time, taking advantage of the federal Family Medical Leave Act and have high rate of absenteeism without pay.
- For example, use of the medical leave act by Metro employees jumped 44 percent to 28,340 hours from 2008 to 2009, Kamp said, calling it "the driving factor" for overtime last year.
Source: Dean Mosiman, "Madison Metro driver highest paid city employee," Wisconsin State Journal, February 7, 2010.
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