Every year, Ontario discloses the top earners among public sector employees. The most recent “Sunshine List” included 62 TTC drivers and 21 subway station collectors who made more than $100,000 in 2008, basically by working overtime. Why does the TTC offer extra pay instead of hiring more workers?

I recently spoke to the TTC’s head of corporate communications, Brad Ross, as well as Amalgamated Transit Union president Bob Kinnear on the subjects of overtime, sick benefits and on-the-job injuries.

Wouldn’t you know it, they differed on a lot of items — but on overtime they actually agree. Mostly.

Says Ross, “We save the people of Toronto money by paying overtime rather than hiring more employees and paying … not just their wages, but also benefits.”

Apparently, non-salary costs are high enough that it’s better to use the people you’ve got than bring in new ones. This may be especially true for the transit industry, where unexpected delays often mean overtime.

Kinnear feels employees should not be criticized for making themselves available for more hours, such as during Caribana. Some personnel work, he says, “seven days throughout the week … 15 hours a day, to provide the service. Under those sort of circumstances it is economically … responsible of the TTC to have some overtime.”

He adds, “If you were to hire more employees to cover events like that, or those sporadic increases that you require, then there’s going to be times when they’re not doing anything.”

Kinnear did say the TTC could save money by not requiring subway operators to work “forced overtime.” That’s a good topic for another column since one way to reduce costs is by switching train crews en route — delaying us riders.

The system is also chronically short of bus drivers, especially since service was expanded in 2008 and 2009. The TTC expects to catch up on hiring soon, but I’ve heard such promises for years.

Does the commission pay too much overtime in order to cover the absence of sick employees? Ross says the TTC’s absentee rates are in the middle of the road compared to similar transit agencies. This — for those of you following the issues behind the Toronto civic workers’ strike — may indicate the TTC is not overly generous when it comes to allowing sick days.

Although absenteeism can range from around six to 13 per cent depending on the department, Kinnear says the rate has dropped in recent months. 

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