Let CAT pick you up! Capital Area Transit passengers say the bus company's slogan proved sloppy the past two days following a dozen routes canceled or delayed. But the problem may shed light on a larger issue.
Tim Newcomer said he relies on the bus to take him to work every day from Carlisle to Harrisburg. The state worker said he was notified by email over the weekend the 7 a.m. bus was canceled due to a 26 percent shortage in bus drivers. Newcomer said he was late to work on Monday due to the snafu.
Initially, CAT said most of the drivers called out sick. CAT General Manager Bill Jones said flu season may have been a driving factor, but said he was not exactly sure why there was a sudden shortage.
According to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1436, which represents CAT employees and drivers, showed abc27 a copy of Monday's schedule. Union President John Keller said the shortage was nothing sinister or planned.
"This union has never discussed or engaged in any kind of work stoppage," he said. "There's nothing to gain from that."
Instead, Keller said the issues boils down to a manpower problem in the company. The schedule showed 16 bus operators were previously scheduled off for vacation, personal days, injuries, or Monday was their regularly scheduled off day. Keller said six drivers called out sick Monday morning and one driver was late to work.
Both Keller and Jones acknowledged there both sides have been in contract negotiations since the union contract expired last June. According to Keller, talks stalled last fall.
Jones said he was unsure if the contract had anything to do with the driver shortage.
"We look at the service to our customers from being separate to that issue," he said. "And, we need them to show up and come to work or if we need to find ways to get that work out."
Jones said CAT was unable to find replacement drivers before Monday morning. On Tuesday, another round of route cancellations left many passengers curbside. Keller said only one person called out sick, yet the problem persisted.
"At any given day, three or four people call of sick – [CAT has] a problem," said Keller.
Keller said two part-time drivers were promoted to full-time after Monday's shortage. This resulted in 86 full-time and seven part-time bus operators. CAT employs 212 company-wide.
Keller said the manpower problem is partially associated with contract issues. He said drivers who used to go above and beyond their duties have decided against such motivation.
"The bus operators at CAT are accustomed to working excessive amounts of overtime," he said.
Keller said grievances are filed to transportation and labor authorities because CAT asked part-time drivers to work upwards of 40 hours a week. According to Keller, part-time operators are only allowed to work 25 hours a week.
"Bus drivers decided they don't want to work overtime anymore because they're upset," he said. "The morale is very low and they just don't want to work the overtime."
Keller said the union proposed a 2 percent wage increase in October and their proposal was denied. Currently, the max pay for drivers is $24.80 an hour. The increase would bump annual compensation roughly $1,000 per employee.
Union members said besides balking at wage increases, a possible reason for halted negotiations could be the limbo-status of the PennDOT Bureau of Transportation Harrisburg Area Transportation Study conducted last year. The study examined transit services in six Central Pennsylvania counties and could ultimately combine transit systems if PennDOT sees fit.
Jones does not feel contract negotiations could harm services in the future. He said CAT are looking at ways to provide service to customers when dealing with a shortage.
"There's no talk of a strike at this point and time," he said. "We are in discussions with the union over a new contract and we're trying to deal though those issues."