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.