Should FAX bus drivers be rewarded with extra time off just for showing up to

The Fresno City Council on Thursday voted to approve a new union contract for FAX bus drivers that included raises and a new incentive time-off program, but not without a contentious debate over city-wide employee performance and accountability.

FAX bus drivers were caught in the cross hairs of a dispute among council members on how to improve employee performance and reward high-performing workers who deserve it.

The new Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1027 contract included 2.5 percent wage increases in 2018 and 2019 and a new incentive time-off program. The incentive time-off program in the contract allows employees to earn a day off after working about 440 hours, or about 12 weeks.

Other bargaining units — including city blue collar workers, white collar workers, electricians and professional workers — already have the option to use the incentive time off.

The new contract was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Garry Bredefeld and Steve Brandau voting against it.

Bredefeld, who represents District 6 in northeast Fresno, said he supported the raises for bus drivers but not the incentive time off.

“That is a program that I think is probably the most wasteful, misguided and reckless programs enacted here,” he said. “We’re giving city employees an additional one week of leave time just to show up for work. We are elected to be good stewards of public money. We need to hold employees who don’t do their jobs accountable. … It’s an absolute waste of taxpayer money.”

Bredefeld estimated the program already costs the city over $1.5 million annually if all employees who are eligible use it. If other unions, such as police and fire, demand the program be included in their contracts too, the yearly cost could grow to $2.5 million, Bredefeld said.

Councilman Luis Chavez, however, said the program essentially pays for itself because it reduces city costs for paying overtime. Chavez pointed out that bus driver salaries don’t come from the general fund, so savings couldn’t be allocated to areas such as public safety and parks. Chavez also noted that much of the bus drivers’ time off is protected by federal and state regulations.

“The job itself inherently has hazards built into it,” he said in an interview with The Bee. “When we evaluate employee contracts, we sometimes want to do it one-size-fits-all, but to me, every contract is based on individual merits. This incentive program might not work for another bargaining unit. In my view, it did work for this specific one.”

On the other hand, Brandau, who represents northwest Fresno, opposed the raises for bus drivers. When he was a new council member, bus drivers’ performance was an issue, and he said he hasn’t seen much improvement. During Thursday’s closed session, the council debated for hours about how to improve performance, but the results were inconclusive, he said.

“I’m not above giving anybody a raise that deserves a raise,” Brandau said. “But council is incapable or unwilling to address raising performance standards.”

Paul Caprioglio, who represents District 4 in east-central Fresno, said the council’s performance concerns aren’t just about bus drivers, it’s about employees citywide. He urged his council colleagues to join a subcommittee to evaluate performance standards across the board.

Al Muñoz, the interim president of ATU Local 1027, said the council members’ concerns about bus drivers’ time off isn’t unique to Fresno, noting the state and federal protections. He wondered why council members didn’t question the incentive time-off program for other bargaining units.

“When they want our support (in politics), we’re there for them,” Muñoz said. “But when we need their support, where are they?”