City sold us out: Wheelway driver

Dave Bartlett
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The company taking over the paratransit contract in St. John’s isn’t offering Wheelway drivers a fair deal, one driver says.?The company disagrees. — File photo

A Wheelway driver says the American company that landed the regional paratransit contract with the City of St. John’s is not offering enough in the way of compensation.

In August, city council announced that MV Transit Canadian Bus, which also runs paratransit services in other parts of Canada, had won the tender by underbidding Wheelway — the longstanding provider of the service —by $1.7 million and by promising to operate 18 new buses.

At the time, Coun. Tom Hann said MV would offer jobs to Wheelway drivers.

But Raymond Murphy, who’s been a paratransit driver for the last three years, said council should have done more to protect the livelihood of current drivers.

“I think the city should have stipulated in the tender that the drivers would be getting compensation at least equal to the starting wage of Metrobus drivers, which is $22.50 an hour. I know in Vancouver the starting wage with MV is $21.50 an hour,” he told The Telegram Thursday morning.

He had a job interview scheduled with MV later on Thursday, but said other drivers he’s spoken with, who have already had interviews with the company, feel the same way.

“I guess the powers that be have decided that our drivers are somehow less able than their mainland counterparts and we’re some kind of second-class citizens and deserve second-class pay,” Murphy added. “I don’t think that’s right.”

He said drivers feel they’ve been “sold out by the city for 30 pieces of silver, which in this case was the 18 brand new buses.”

While MV is offering a small raise — $13.50 an hour as opposed to the $12 an hour that Wheelway drivers make — the new company is only offering 37.5 hours a week and no overtime, according to Murphy.

“It’s not a raise,” he said. “Most of the drivers here work between 60 and 75 hours per week, every week.”

Murphy said when you add up the numbers, he figures he’ll make about $20,000 less a year if he takes the job at MV.

“We’re not trying to gouge anybody, we’re just trying to keep what we have,” he said.

Murphy said he is happy to hear that disabled people will benefit from the new buses, which he said they deserve. Wheelway drivers consider their customers as part of their extended family, he said.

“We go into people’s homes, we put on their shoes and their coats,” he said.

The Telegram contacted Hann, who said the city has awarded the tender to a private business and therefore referred questions about what MV is offering to the company directly.

Don Johnson, the company’s regional vice-president in St. John’s, said while some of the Wheelway drivers interviewed so far have raised the issue of overtime, many seem to be pleasantly surprised by the compensation package the company is offering.

“What we’re offering is $13.50 an hour for the current Wheelway employees because we want to give them the first right of refusal for the work before we go out to the public,” said Johnson.

“We do have a full benefit package — extended health package available to them.”

He also said the company is offering lunch breaks, which as he understands it, the drivers aren’t getting now.

Johnson said some of the facts Murphy provided are not quite right. He said a full work week at MV is 40 hours, not 37.5.

“We’re not saying that overtime won’t happen, but at this point we don’t know,” he added.

“We’re a very safety conscious organization. We don’t want drivers out there driving 18 hours a day to where (it’s) not safe for the public or our passengers,” Johnson said.

He said MV is  eager to serve St. John’s and wants to build on the “great service that’s already been established here.”

The company hopes to hire about 30 full-time employees — about 20 to 25 drivers, with the remaining people acting as dispatchers or office staff.

MV officially takes over the city’s paratransit contract on Jan. 1.

Organizations: Don Johnson

Geographic location: Canada, Vancouver

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Recent comments

  • ryan
    November 07, 2011 - 12:54

    $13.50 for ww drivers $10.00 for everyone else this is a us company.

  • b
    November 05, 2011 - 02:56

    Sounds like WW drivers concerns and whining has back fired on them and the public has stood up for the people who need a good service and if another company can do it cheaper with better equipment then so be it. If the drivers want the same pay as Metrobus then first of all apply for a job with Metrobus. As long as you are privately owned deal with it.

  • MMM
    November 04, 2011 - 22:30

    Ok, So Wheelway lost the contract. Companies lose contracts all the time. The part that upsets me is the contract was given to an American company. The city is always saying support local business. They are going against their own advice. SHAME ON YOU ST. JOHN'S By the way, the $1.7 million difference in the bid was over 5 years, which amounts to approx $340,000 a year. We'll see how well this company does.. time will tell..

  • Willy
    November 04, 2011 - 20:28

    Oh sure all of a sudden their is going to be a big rush on, that is going to keep these 17 buses hopping full time. It is going interesting to see how this plays out and how many people are going to want to do this job. How is this new company going to provide this service over the long term for 1.7m less than the present company. Guaranteed the city is going to get screwed when this new outfit is the only game in town.

  • Starr
    November 04, 2011 - 16:11

    What about "buy local" - should not the same thing apply here? Surely Nflders are capable of buying and operating busses - why give it to an American company? Shooting ourselves in the foot again.

  • Conservatorium
    November 04, 2011 - 12:21

    Want to make more than $13,50 an hour? Yeah to university, get yourself educated and then you can make more than that. The job itself could be done by a 17 old who just got their license. There's no need to coddle the drivers. They had the same educational opportunities here as everyone else. They could have changed their lot in life, but they didn't. Nothing here says they have to take the job.

  • jim m.
    November 04, 2011 - 12:16

    i,used wheelway for two years ,going back and fort to the waterford for dialysis treatments,and 60 percent i was late or not picked up at all. and in no way do i blame the drivers they were ,spread out so much ,driving montreal,s junk , i paid five dollers return and city hall paid the other 40 dollers,thank god for mv , and good riddence to wheelway , jim .m

  • Craig
    November 04, 2011 - 12:12

    The way I see it the city's job is to provide the best service for it's citizens at the lowest cost to those tax payers. so they are getting a cheaper service with new equipment. They don't owe Wheel Way or it's workers anything. Atleast the city got the company to agree to give the wheel way workers first crack at jobs. If anyone sold you out it was wheelway, obiiously they were getting way more for the contract while paying you guys less. good Luck

  • BR
    November 04, 2011 - 12:05

    No comment from Wheelway? Can they explain how another company can give better service at a lower price. Come on Wheelway, show us your books.

  • RB
    November 04, 2011 - 11:34

    I'm glade wheelway is getting those choking, stinky, airpoluting busses of the steets.

    • Spike
      November 04, 2011 - 21:39

      Just so you know Wheelway does school runs in and around St. John's so even if don't have the paratransit contract any more they still have the school runs to do.

  • Joeinstjohns
    November 04, 2011 - 11:25

    wish i could get a job paying 13.50 plus benefits for guaranteed full time hours with no education and no qualifications other than a drivers license and knowing how to dress people. some people don't know how good they have it.

  • Blair
    November 04, 2011 - 11:09

    I am not surprised that the City went looking to replace Wheelway. While they had top notch drivers their buses were deplorable. They looked like worn out junk that had never seen a drop of water except for a rainfall. Too bad!

  • JJackson
    November 04, 2011 - 10:54

    I think everyone has a right to comment as long as they have their facts straight...first of all WW drivers work 40 hours,straight pay,then may work additional hours at an overtime rate.No driver is working 18 hours a day,there are many occupations including drivers who work who work 50-60 hours per week,WW drivers are off at a minimum of 12-14 hours before their next shift,and not every driver is working overtime,but the option is there,should they want to do it.The wage that MV is offering is comparable to what many of the drivers are making,but without the option of overtime will have an impact on those who have budgeted their income to make ends meet.The public comments seem to be reflected on hearsay and not fact.We as employees at W W are not upset with the new company,we are upset with City Hall giving away a contract to an American company who will not be putting revenue back into our economy.We are upset that City Hall did not publicly acknowledge that WW was buying half a fleet of new buses and adding to it incrementally over the contract.We are up set that our employer took the time to do this tender,submit it on time,then MV was given a two week extension on the tender date to submit a tender.We are upset that as a local company that the public is not backing a local firm,we bare upset that safety seems to be thrown about,and yet our buses are inspected by Dept of Transport,is the public saying that this agency is responsible for putting unsafe vehicles on the road? And all the above comments concerning benefits? where are you getting your information from?We all have health benefits,dental,and vision coverage,so the above comments have no merit on this topic. We are also concerned about our clients....our drivers and dispatchers know our clients extremely well,they do go and help elderly patients with coats and shoes,WW employees are often the only people that some of the clients see on a regular basis.The public gets upset and says it is hard to get appt with the service,that is not our fault,what they should be looking at is how many people are allowed to utilize this service on the approval by City Hall.When we have clients calling and saying they need an appt with less then 12 hours notice because they are unable to use their car,or the client that calls because she has to work late,and hadn't used the service since last year when metro bus was on strike,and she applied to Paratransit Dept at City Hall to be approved at that time,so she would have transportation to and from work.Does the public see anything wrong with this.So while I understand that people make comments on what they hear,all we ask is that you find out the facts before you condem our point of view.People say Newfoundlanders are the friendliest people in the world...yet for some reason we turn on our own instead of supporting one another.

  • axle
    November 04, 2011 - 10:16

    It should be against the law to pay someone 12 dollars

    • Brett
      November 04, 2011 - 16:52

      Actually Axle - it's against the law to pay someone less than $10/hr or schedule work for less than a 3 hour shift. It's called minimum wage, and it's the minimum level of compensation for a unit of basic labour. If you want more - you have to provide more than basic labour. Comparing NL to BC and bus driving wages is ridiculous. Do our houses cost $600,000 on average? $400,000 for a bachelor apartment? Do we have reams of asians coming to St. John's pouring money in to our economy? Do we have an incredibly high population density? Oh wait - no to all those things. Why would you think we can support $30/hr bus drivers? How many people are being moved with the transportation system? How much money is being generated per KM? You want BC rates, move to BC. Move to Toronto, move to somewhere with more people, more money, and an economy of scale.

  • Two Percent
    November 04, 2011 - 10:16

    maybe the 1% Occupy crowd needs to hit up MV-Wheelway for better pay and benefit. Oh wait, Occupy might not as they probally would give their support the 99% owners in order to get new buses for the 1% customers. Oh my, the socalist type crown must be torn.

    November 04, 2011 - 09:40

    The article says it all. MV 17 New buses--------------------Wheelway Have you seen their fleet, junk MV Higher Salary more Staff and Benifits-------Wheelway Lower salary no benifits MV 1.7 million less per year All this tells me that Wheelway is getting whats the deserve. For years running less than prefect equipment, understaffed, pushing the drivers to work more hours, (which they think is a good thing), with no benifits. While the owners make a small fortune. If another company can come in at 1.7m less and put new buses in the fleet and pay a higher salary with benifits, and still make money,(or they wouldn't do it) why couldn't the owners of Wheelway do the same. I personally won't miss their airpoluting buses, ever follow on of them, they stink. It can happen soon enough.

  • David W
    November 04, 2011 - 08:48

    The drivers should not be complaining. Trying to compare wages with a driver in Vancouver is crazy. Try living in Vancouver. Housing costs alone are 3-4 times what they are here. This company is offering a higher hourly wage and full benefits. The guy who complains now because he wants higher wages and no health benefits will be the same guy would complain in 2 years because he now needs expensive medication and has no health plan.

  • Joe
    November 04, 2011 - 08:43

    “Most of the drivers here work between 60 and 75 hours per week, every week.” That is outrageous, I would not want to be in a vehicle with some one working those kind of hours, how safe are they at the 60th or 75th hr. In my mind not safe at all.

  • roy
    November 04, 2011 - 08:30

    Here we go again an outside NL company gets a contract saves the city over 1/7 million new busses and better service for those in need the drivers a raise in pay, still not good enough, they want the overtime hours plus the raise in pay and take the lunch break and get better wages than BC and and and what else. No wander outside companies are winning contracts when you see the mind set of NLers. I say the Co should come start fresh and hire anyone who wants to work open the jobs for everyone.

  • NewfieInVA
    November 04, 2011 - 07:59

    It seems to me that MV is doing the most responsible thing by hiring more drivers and payer better then its under staffed predecessor. It may effect some drivers negatively but what about the new jobs that are going to be created and the new buses for the customers. Many governments restrict the total number of hours a day a driver can operate a commercial vehicle. Maybe Newfoundland should do that same. It concerns me as a parent that a group of drivers can be operating large buses under those conditions described in this article; "60 and 75 hours per week, every week.”

    • frank ryan
      November 04, 2011 - 14:36

      13.50 is only for wheelway drivers everyone else is 10.00 hr great company

    • unknown
      November 04, 2011 - 19:52

      As far as I'm concerned I don't think it is all about the money, the fact is that City Hall awarded the contract to a American company that will not be putting revenue back into our economy instead of giving it to a company from here. If this system wasn't being abused with people that are capable of using metro bus or a car the people that really need this system would have no problem getting it, as I can see the blame goes to the city. As for the statement that the drivers have no education and no qualifications is a very degrading statement from a small minded person. I guess another company can come in and give better service at a lower price when you probably have the city of st. john's to back you up all the way and if the city provided more money to Wheelway they would be able to go out and get new buses for the clients. I think that people should check their facts straight before making statements. And as to the employee's of Wheelway I think that you guys are doing a fantastic job, keep up the good work.

  • Mrs. H.
    November 04, 2011 - 06:54

    The City did NOT sell Wheelway out. More than ten times in the last six months, outings that my Mother was to take had to be postponed or cancelled due to maintainance problems with the fleet. OR they could only take ambulatory clients because the ramp was broken... again. Patrons needed a better service and now, finally, are getting it.

  • Bayman
    November 04, 2011 - 06:40

    Seems to me me that MV is an improvemment. Who in their right mind is going to guarantee OT.? Take it or leave it Mr. Murphy.