ORLANDO – When the Lynx bus system’s board of directors met this afternoon, they opened the meeting by honoring several employees who deserved recognition for going above and beyond the call of duty, and for their dedication to public service.
“Recognizing our employees, I certainly think it’s one of the most important things we do,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who also serves on the Lynx board.
All good and well, several of the Lynx drivers and other workers said. But what they really showed up at the meeting for was something else entirely: a pay raise.
“It’s been four years since we drivers have been working without a contract,” said Victor Torres, a Lynx bus driver who also got elected to the state Legislature this year.
Driving the buses without a salary increase, he said, “leaves us members wondering how we are going to be supporting our families. All that we ask is our fair share. Our livelihood is in your hands.”
Norm Audette, who heads the union representing the Lynx employees, noted that an impass hearing had already been declared, so that leaves the workers in the lurch. It’s definitely hurt the workers’ morale, he added.
“What happened to the sense of family and camaraderie in this place?” Audette asked. “That’s gone way down to the bottom.”
It’s also put a huge financial strain on the employees and their families, he added.
“Today we’re just a number, and many of us have had to take second jobs because this agency has not given us a pay raise,” Audette said.
He called on the board to step in and push management to act.
“I cannot negotiate a contract in front of this board,” he said. “It is time for the board to step up and act. The employees at Lynx are also your employees.”
One of the Lynx board members is Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and Audette noted that she had given county employees a 3 percent pay hike, which he said came from dipping into county reserves. Lynx should follow that example and do the same, Audette said.
“Now is the time for you to instruct the Lynx management to dip into their reserves and give the employees a well deserved raise,” he said.
But the Lynx board members said it was a mistake to assume that they were apathetic about the contract issues, or that they didn’t believe the workers deserved a pay hike.
“We are not insensitive to the fact that you have not gotten a raise,” said Lynx Chairman Carlton Henley. The problem, he added, is funding – or a lack of it. He blamed that on reductions in state funding for public transit services – and he likewise blamed that on the drop in property values that tightened state revenues so drastically.
“This board does not have control over the amount of money we receive,” he said. “We could probably give more by reducing staff. We choose not to do that. So we have to try to provide the best service we can with the funding we have. We have to agree to a contract we can afford.”
Jacobs noted that Audette got some of his facts wrong as well.
“Orange County did not cut our reserves in order to give a 3 percent raise,” she said. “Our reserve fund is at a healthy 7 percent. Our 3 percent raise did not come out of reserves.”
Atlee Mercer, the former chairman of Lynx who now serves as the director of the Osceola County Expressway Authority, said Lynx actually deserves a lot of credit for operating a first class public transportation system on such limited resources.
“I know how tough it is to do what you people do,” he said. “You are doing an extraordinary job with the funding you have.”
Even Dyer admitted that Lynx is “underfunded and has been for many years.”
Jacobs also noted that, as they demonstrated at the start of the meeting, the Lynx workers are genuinely admired for their high quality job performance.
“I also want to echo the sentiments that we sincerely appreciate the hard work you do,” she said.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.