Roger L.  Stancil, Town Manager


Steve Spade, Transportation Director

Pam Eastwood, Human Resources Director

Florentine Miller, Deputy Town Manager


Response to Petition from Transportation Department Employee Representatives and UE Local 150


February 26, 2007



The purpose of this memorandum is to provide further information on the issues (Attachment 1) presented to the Town Council on January 22, 2007, by employees of the Transportation Department who are members of UE Local 150. This information is listed by topic below and discusses the Transportation Department’s ongoing initiatives and programs to address employee issues and workplace concerns. The sections in italics are comments or statements as presented in the January 22nd presentation to the Council from this group; the sections in regular type are the responses and comments of the Transportation staff and/or Town management staff. 



Topic: Understaffing


From the material presented on January 22, 2007:


“Understaffing has been an ongoing problem that management acknowledged during the course of the meet and confer. This was a source of a lot of the problems, including anger and low morale in the Transportation Department from 2004-2006. It is still a problem today.”


Transportation Department Response:

Adequate staffing levels are an important part in operating an effective public transportation system. Unlike some other businesses, when a bus operator is absent a replacement must be found for service to continue. This is achieved by maintaining standby personnel and budgeting overtime as needed to cover absenteeism.


In April 2006, Chapel Hill Transit was authorized 87 bus operators at full-time (40 hours per week) and 25 part-time (25-26 hours per week). In April 2006, there were 11 openings for operators, three openings for mechanics, and one for service attendants. At that time, 10 operators were also absent on extended medical leave. Their positions could not be filled during the approved leave periods


In recent months, Transit staff has worked with Human Resources to initiate improvements which have streamlined the hiring and training process for operators, reducing it from 150 days to an average of 45 days. New training has involved bus operators as instructors and reduced the training time required. As shown below, there are currently three openings for full-time operators, three for part-time operators and the maintenance division is fully staffed. This table shows changes in numbers of open positions since April 2006. We believe that current staffing levels are reasonably adequate, and plan to address any further needs directly with the Town Council during the budget process.


Job Type




April 2006

Openings February 2007

Full Time Operators






Part Time Operators













Topic: “Run cutting”


From the material presented on January 22, 2007:


“Runs not paying 40 hours were cut from 32 to 16 and further progress was expected but management stopped meeting with us. However, as of January 8, 2007, the number runs working less than eight hours have been increased again. “Run cut” policy is not being applied.”


Transportation Department Response:


“Run cutting” (the process of developing service coverage and schedules into separate pieces of work which can be selected by a single employee) is an ongoing process. Bus schedules and work for employees is reviewed and modified three times each year. “Run cutting” is complicated by many factors which must be considered in meeting community service needs.  The process and outcomes have significant impact on employee work schedules and significant cost implications for the Town. The ideal “run cutting” process results in the most desirable work schedules for employees within the fiscal constraints of the Town.


 A “run cut” policy developed by the Transit Department with broad input and participation from employees is used as a guide to prioritize the quality and type of runs (individual schedules) created. Employees bid or select their preferred run in order of seniority. The Transit staff producing the run choices must create a plan which meets the community’s service needs within the financial resources available.  


The Town commits to 40 hours per week for full-time employees in Transit Operations; there is no guarantee for an eight hour workday. The community’s service needs require varying work schedules. The Town commits to 25 hours per week when hiring part-time employees. Full-time and part-time employees often receive the opportunity to work more hours beyond these commitments if they choose to do so.


Each of the three “run cuts” produced each year is reviewed by a “run cut” committee of operators and management staff prior to the beginning of the employee bidding period. Every “run cut” generates positive and negative comments from employees. Transit staff members receive, consider and respond to this feedback and add refinements and adjustments in future “run cuts.” The “run cut” committee is now reviewing the “run cut” policy to identify and address employees’ issues before beginning the next (spring) “run cut.”


Topic: “Run switches”


From the material presented on January 22, 2007:


“Run switches had been re-established but have now been stopped again.”


Transportation Department Response:


“Run switch” is a past practice by which a bus operator secured his/her own replacement for one or more days on which that operator was scheduled but wished to be off work. This practice was discontinued two years ago and has not been reinstituted.


Problems with the past practice occurred when an employee made arrangements with another employee to work in his/her place without consulting or notifying Transit management. Absence of management knowledge or approval resulted in some employees working more than 40 hours per week (thus obligating the Town to pay time-and-a-half the regular hourly rate for that time), resulting in excess and unbudgeted overtime costs. In other situations, the employee who had been asked to substitute for an absent operator would not be available for work at times when Transit staff needed to schedule him/her for other coverage needs.


Transit management staff believes that the past practice of “run switches” created higher than necessary salary costs for the Town, diminished the staff’s ability to effectively meet the community’s service needs, and made it difficult to manage schedules and costs satisfactorily.


The past practice originally evolved to enable employees to take time off when they wished to do so. Chapel Hill Transit has made two significant changes that have improved employees’ ability to take time off:


1.      Staffing levels are now near 100%; with sufficient staffing, management can now plan and support reasonable time off for employees.

2.      The current vacation policy guarantees that six employees each day may request in advance and receive approved time off. Employees can select and request days off with appropriate notice to transit staff. Once time off is approved, it is the staff s responsibility (rather than the employee’s) to schedule replacement bus operators for that time.


We believe these changes now meet the employees’ needs and that “run switches” as practiced in the past are no longer necessary.


Topic:  Bus Cleaning


From the material presented on January 22, 2007:


“A cleaning company was hired to clean and maintain the busses. However, their work has not been efficient of late.”


Response from Transportation Department:


Chapel Hill Transit has a contract with Nu Car Glow to clean bus interiors. This firm provides biweekly interior cleaning on a schedule by which the entire fleet of 86 buses is cleaned over a 30-day period. The work of the contractor is inspected regularly by supervisory staff in the maintenance division. There have been only minimal concerns over the quality of the cleaning service, which has been generally satisfactory.


To further improve cleanliness levels, the maintenance division has recommended that the bus cleaning contract for the 2007-08 budget be expanded to add detailed or deep cleanings on a periodic basis. This is consistent with standard industry practice in transit agencies. This recommendation has been included in the budget proposal to the Manager.


Topic: Buses being fueled and warmed up


From material presented on January 22, 2007:


“Busses being gassed up and warmed up or with air conditioning was improved but has been inconsistent.”


Response from Transportation Department:


Chapel Hill Transit has developed a policy and practice to ensure the vehicles are fueled and warmed up (or cooled down, during hot weather) before the driver departs on the route. The service crew fuels every bus every night, so all tanks are full each morning. In extreme heat or cold, standby drivers are assigned to start vehicles before routes begin. This program has worked well with only minimal interruptions. Difficulties have occurred only when there have been insufficient standby operators onsite to start the buses before the routes begin. These standby operator shortages were caused by high levels of unexpected employee absences. We believe that the present standard for fueling and pre-starting buses is at a satisfactory level.


According to January 22, 2007 presentation to Council, Issues Still Needing Work or Policy Decisions or Changes from the Town Council:

Topic: “Meet and Confer”


From material presented on January 22, 2007:


  1. Re-establish “Meet and Confer” (open to all departments) who coordinate with the union.


Response from Town Management Staff:


Regular communication with employees is an important part of a responsive work place. Chapel Hill Transit has open and effective employee communications systems. There are a number of different means and opportunities by which employees and management staff address and discuss issues and concerns.  These include the Transit Employee Forum, an internal employee committee whose members represent all areas of the Transportation Department and are elected by their peers. The Transit Employee Forum meets monthly and has done so for the past 2 years. This group has invested time and effort in resolving a number of employee issues satisfactorily. (Attachment 2)


Other means for employee communications include the quarterly employee meetings. Each quarter, staff conducts a two-hour meeting with required attendance by all Transit employees. Information updates are provided on policies, procedures and the latest issues that affect the entire transit operation. These sessions are also used to conduct regulatory training as required.


In addition to these internal forums, four Transit employees are members, nominated by their peers, of the Town-wide Employee Forum.  This group includes representative from the various Town departments who meet once each month to share thoughts, address concerns, and make improvement recommendations on various topics.


The Transportation Department produces a biweekly internal employee newsletter and distributes this to all Transit employees. (Attachment 3) This, in addition to the Town-wide employee newsletter (Attachment 4) includes relevant information and provides a forum for employee recognition and appreciation.


Chapel Hill Transit has created and works regularly with specialized committees made up of employees and staff to focus on issues of employee interest. Below is a summary of those committees and their activities.


a. “Run cut” Committee


This committee represents all levels and seniority of operators. The committee reviews actual “run cuts” and is currently reviewing the “run cut” policy, with the goal of identifying and recommending possible changes in the “run cut” policy to make runs more attractive for employees while respecting the Town’s cost constraints.


b. Customer Service Committee


This committee has a dual focus: to discuss ways Chapel Hill Transit can improve customer service for the public; and to identify and recommend actions to improve internal communication and practices to be more responsive to employees’ issues.


This committee has developed and presented recommendations which have improved bus operator training in customer service and communications training for supervisory personnel. The committee is taking a key role in creating the Supervisor training program, which will identify operators who are willing to be trained to perform supervisory duties during planned staff absences ( at additional pay for these times).


c. Safety Committee


The Safety, Training and Security Coordinator chairs the Safety Committee of bus operators and staff. The committee discusses ways to improve system safety and reviews operator accidents.


d. Wellness Committee


A fitness and wellness center will be located in the new transit facility. A committee of operators and management staff will discuss and recommend for the planning, selection and installation of equipment and schedule of programs be offered to employees.


From materials presented on January 22, 2007:


  1. “Right of our Union Representatives to meet with workers and members in non-work areas during non-work times such as the break room and the parking lot. Management is refusing the right of our union reps to meet with workers during the week on town premises, unless there is a meeting scheduled for the Sanitation Meeting Room. This is unfair and inconvenient for our members. We have been holding such meetings in the break room and parking lot since 2004 with no problems until management interfered.


Response from Town Management Staff:


Town-wide, employees currently hold membership in four other unions or employee organizations. Examples include a separate Transit union other than the UE Local 150, a union for police officers, and a union for Fire personnel.  These organizations conduct their business outside Town premises on non-work time.  The department head is available to meet with the group from time to time to answer questions from employees, and the organization communicates with its members by electronic and regular means. These organizations conduct fundraisers and other activities which are of interest to its members.


We believe it is reasonable to treat the UE Local 150 group in the same manner as the other employee organizations. The transportation director is available to meet with the group from time to time to answer questions from employees. We believe that the department-wide employee committees and teams which are working with department staff on operations and workplace issues are doing a good job of addressing and resolving employee issues. This approach eliminates disruption in the workplace.  The requested meeting places, the break room and the parking lot are not public areas. These areas are not the same as public parks or the Library where citizens are invited to spend time.  We do not believe we should make these type areas open to the public for any purpose not related to Town business.


  1. Changes needed in the current grievance procedure and grievance policies.
    1. Recognition of Union Stewards by management.


    1. Employees have right to choose a union steward to be present during disciplinary meetings-including and especially the pre-disciplinary meeting that may lead to suspensions or dismissal.
    2. Union representatives present at Step 3 of the grievance procedure.


Response from Town Management Staff:


The current grievance procedure is specified in the Town Ordinance and requires Council action for revision. Employee rights to representation in grievance proceedings are defined in the Ordinance. The Ordinance does not provide for employees to have representation in disciplinary meetings or pre-disciplinary meetings. We support this Ordinance because allowing employees to have a representative present during disciplinary meeting would be disruptive to any workplace.  For example, when a supervisor wishes to address an employee about a matter that is disciplinary in nature, the employee could refuse to speak with the supervisor until such time as he/she was able to have a representative present.  We do not believe that this is the type of work environment that is conducive to an ultimately productive and effective workplace.


  1. Posting union literature on bulletin boards in every town department.


Response from Town Management Staff:


The Town Attorney worked with the department heads to develop and implement a posting and bulletin board policy in 2005.  That policy allows for review and approval of materials appropriate for those bulletin boards which are not a public space. The UE Local 150 group is free to submit material which they wish to post for review and approval under this policy including notices of meetings. Any material from any source which has not been reviewed in advance by the department will be removed.


  1. Presentation on the union at new hire orientation by union members in all departments.


Material covered is related either to Town policies, employee benefits or regulatory requirements. No information on any external employee organization is included in the information provided to new employees during New Employee Orientation.  Our recommendation is to maintain the current agenda which allows us to keep the half day that the employee is away from work for this program to a minimum. 


  1. Timely responses to information requests from town administrators.


Response from Town Management Staff:


The requests for information from the UE Local 150 group have been received and responded to within a reasonable timeframe, taking into consideration other operational and task priorities and the complexity of the specific request made.



We acknowledge that some issues and employee concerns in the Transportation Department were not addressed and acted on in a timely manner in 2004. The Manager and staff recognized the need to improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of problem solving about working conditions for employees and took action to do so. That effort continues today, through all the methods and channels of communication and employee involvement described in this document.



  1. UE 150 Presentation to Town Council  (p. 9).
  2. Chapel Hill Transit Employee Forum Annual Report October 2005 (p. 13).
  3. The Transit Times (p. 17).
  4. Town of Chapel Hill Employee Newsletter, Towntalk (p. 21).
  5. Memorandum, June 15, 2005, NC Law Related to Negotiations between Elected Officials and Labor Unions (p. 25).