WMATA provided data about employee salaries, bonuses, overtime and benefits for fiscal year 2009. Is the $100,000 bus driver a myth, or reality? Does Metro depend on a lot of overtime? Are bonuses incredibly high, or used primarily as a symbolic recognition of a job well done?

First, here are the ten most common jobs at Metro:

Title Number Avg Salary Max Salary Avg Overtime
Metrobus Operator 2672 $49,500 58,600 7,400
Train Operator 611 52,300 58,200 10,500
Station Manager 523 55,700 58,200 11,500
Janitor 202 39,200 45,400 5,600
Metro Police 194 62,100 86,900 9,300
Bus Operations Mgr 139 77,400 92,500 900
Escalator/Elevator Tech 138 80,600 80,700 2,900
Metro Police MTPD 114 68,100 86,900 12,700
Railcar Cleaner 104 38,700 45,400 1,500

This is a high cost area, and you want people to want these jobs to stick with them for enough years that they have some experience. The jobs that require more specialized skills, involve greater personal risk or supervisory roles are compensated higher than less risky or less skilled jobs.

When you compare this compensation against the Federal government’s GS scale and equivalent jobs posted on USA Jobs.com, the WMATA employees typically make a couple of dollars more per hour compared to Federal workers. They also enjoy better pensions, but no defined contribution matching like TSP, and have higher employer contributions to health care plans. The feds pay for 2/3 of a health care plan, while WMATA has agreed to pay for only 3/4 of the increase in health care costs, which the union representatives I’ve talked to refer to as a concession to WMATA.

Average bus operators and train operators don’t normally make over $50-70k. On the other hand, a few bus or operators put in enough overtime to qualify for the $100,000 per year club, all by putting in significant amounts of overtime:

Position Total Compensation
Rail Operator $113,300
Rail Operator $109,500
Rail Operator $104,500
Rail Operator $103,200
Bus Operator $102,600
Rail Operator $102,500
Bus Operator $101,800
Rail Operator $101,300
Bus Operator $100,200
Bus Operator $100,000

Some instances of high overtime are related to long hours put in by supervisors and track workers in the aftermath of the June 22 accident or other incidents. In all, almost 400 employees got a third of their total compensation from overtime (that is, overtime added half of their base salary).

I do not begrudge employees that put in a lot of overtime their fair pay, and I understand that working long hours sucks, and overtime is a fair way to compensate people for working long hours. Having many employees extended so far beyond their normal working hours is a good example of Metro’s funding challenge. Metro understands this, they’ve discussed reducing their overtime and they’ve made some progress on overtime.

Considering Metro pensions are based on your highest four earning years, including overtime, excessive overtime can hurt Metro’s bottom line not only in the current year, but for years to come if the pensions are increased dramatically by overtime. The pension multiplier for the first 27 years of service is a reasonable 1.7 times your high four years of earnings, but most other government agencies would calculate it based on only your base salary.

What did Metro’s top managers make in 2009? Here are the top ten spots, ranked by salary plus bonuses:

Title Salary Overtime + Bonus
General Manager $315,000 0
Chief Financial Officer 235,000 15,000
Deputy General Manager 235,800 0
Deputy General Manager 231,000 0
Chief Safety Officer 181,300 10,000
Assistant General Manager, Bus Services 184,000 0
Inspector General 177,700 0
General Counsel 175,100 200
Chief of Staff 172,700 200
Chief Performance Officer 170,700 200

Considering the General Manager and his top staff are responsible for running an organization of over 10,000 employees and managing billions of dollars in assets, these salaries do not seem too out of line or unreasonable.

Who at Metro makes more than $100,000 per year in salary only, other than top managers? From the looks of the data, the police force, white collar workers like contract administrators, attorneys, engineers and IT professionals earn that much.

Who makes over $100,000 per year when you include overtime and (less frequently) bonuses? Over 700 employees. Very few train operators or bus drivers. Lots of police officers, Almost 400 police officers, the supervisors of Metrorail central control and the superintendents in charge of maintaining the tracks and wayside communications. Several very senior mechanics. Senior operations supervisors, and very senior (AA grade) technicians.

Position Number of $100K+ employees
Metro Police Officers 74
Track and Wayside Supervisors 17
Mechanic AA ELCL PWRHV Rail 16
Central Control Supervisor 15
Contract Administrator 15
Shift Supervisor ELCL POWER TIES 15
Rail Station Manager 10
Rail Operations Supervisor 9
Network Technician 8
Attorney 8

Therefore, a few employees at Metro make over $100,000 a year, but they are either senior managers or supervisors, or put in significant amounts of overtime. Given the demands of long hours and the high costs of living here, it’s not unreasonable for some workers to make that much.

On the other hand, it’s hard to tell what are reasonable wages for transit workers without knowing how hard Metro has to work to recruit new talent. If wages are too low, Metro will find it difficult to recruit people that will put up with inflexible working hours, often starting early in the morning and ending late in the evening, with a no-man’s-land of dead time in the middle of the day. Leave must be scheduled months in advance.

What do you think? Do you think the pay is too high? Was it higher than you expected, or just about right, or not enough? Should Metro push to increase pension rates, but require that the pension calculations reflect regular hours only?

Update: I added a link in the article to the 400-page PDF containing the salary data.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.