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North County bus drivers, mechanics allegedly owed thousands from First Transit

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Image courtesy NCTD

by Brad Racino, inewsource

Bus drivers and mechanics for San Diego's North County Transit District allege they are owed thousands of dollars in accrued vacation, sick and personal time from First Transit, a national company that operated NCTD's bus service for the past seven years under a $178 million contract.

It's unclear how many people are affected and how much money is at stake, though interviews with drivers and their union suggest 300 to 600 drivers and mechanics may be owed at least six months' worth of earned benefits totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Right now, after a meager paycheck came out with incorrect figures on it, I am still owed $3,052.52," said Kathleen Oliver, an NCTD BREEZE bus driver since 1981.

Others are owed more.

"I'm at 78 hours of vacation, 56 of sick leave and 40 hours of personal time," said Jim Pomeroy, a driver for seven years. "That came out to $6,426."

Their union – Teamsters Local 542 – filed a grievance with First Transit on July 10 and is auditing the last seven years' worth of its employees files to figure out how much they are owed.

"The local is doing everything in its power to force First Transit to make our members whole," said Jaime Vasquez, the union's secretary-treasurer. "We're not stopping at anything."

See inewsource's previous coverage of problems at NCTD

First Transit was responsible for maintaining, dispatching and operating NCTD's fleet of more than 200 buses across its BREEZE, FLEX and LIFT routes until July 1, when MV Transportation took over the contract under a 10-year, $453 million agreement. NCTD had an annual bus ridership of 7.7 million in 2016.

In an emailed statement to inewsource, First Transit spokesman Jay Brock wrote, "As this matter concerns an open grievance, we are not in position to comment."

Cathy Alvarez, a bus driver for First Transit for 18 years, said she's owed almost $3,000, but it's nothing new.

"We've always had payroll issues with First Transit," Alvarez said. "They've been a problem since Day One, I'll put it that way."

NCTD's Chief Administrative Officer, Karen Tucholski, said the public agency is aware of the issue.

"The Executive Director has communicated with First Transit urging them to resolve this issue immediately, and has been assured by First Transit that the issue is being addressed," Tucholski wrote in an email to inewsource.

Drivers are taking to a private Facebook group to voice frustration and ask each other for updates, going so far as to share (and laugh at) varying check amounts they've received from First Transit – one for 13 cents.

San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System has used First Transit for more than a decade. An MTS spokesman said there have never been issues with payments to drivers.

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