Wheels of Fortune

Why are the county's Metrobus drivers such a happy lot? Maybe because some earn more than $90,000 per year.

In 1996 U.S. District Court Judge James L. King dismissed Anderson's attempt to be reinstated as a county employee. Anderson has filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. He is also suing the division superintendent at MDTA's Coral Way garage, Elizabeth Barfield, for filing a false police report against him the day of the fracas. On May 29 Circuit Court Judge Amy Dean denied a county motion to dismiss the case.

Regarding Anderson, Talley shakes his head. "All I can say on brother Anderson is that it was a most unfortunate incident that happened to him." As for Robinson, Talley calls him and his co-plaintiffs "a bullshit crew" who tried to stop the election because they knew they couldn't win.

In their campaign, Robinson and presidential candidate Wallace Toomer homed in on a deal Talley reached with the county last September, a week after signing the current contract. In the deal Talley agreed to drop grievances against the county for contracting out $100 million in transit agency work they believe TWU members should have had first dibs on. In exchange the county agreed to credit Local 291 with $43,555. Robinson maintains Talley sold out union members for "peanuts. I couldn't sell a whole group of people down the river for that," scoffs Robinson, who has logged eighteen years as an MDTA bus driver.

Even more egregious, Robinson says, is a provision in the most recent contract that provides a one-time payment to Talley himself of up to $25,000. That provision dates to legislation the county commission passed in 1996, which authorized retroactive county pension payments to four of Talley's precedessors.

In Miami-Dade County, presidents of public employees' unions typically receive their salaries from their unions. The county pays their pensions. For many years, though, TWU Local 291 presidents did not receive county pension payments. Instead, they received smaller pension payments provided from their union.

By the time Talley became president, however, the county was paying his pension. "I introduced that legislation on behalf of Claude Rolfe," Art Teele recalls. "The resolution wasn't designed for Talley. It was designed to correct past discrimination."

But last year MDTA managers saw fit to apply Teele's measure to Talley anyway. In fact, they added it to the latest contract with Local 291. As a result, Talley received his regular county pension, plus an additional pension payment from county coffers.

Talley says it was the county's decision to pad his pension. Regardless of how the extra payment looks on paper, he insists he's worth every penny. "I lose a lot of money by serving as a full-time union officer," he points out. "I get paid 50 hours a week straight time. I'm a labor leader and I don't even get overtime. How contradictory can you get?"

Talley's sense of entitlement is impressive. So too was his showing at the polls. When election officials counted the ballots on May 29, Talley had collected 597 votes, to 449 for his opponent Wallace Toomer. Johnson easily beat Robinson and one other challenger for executive vice president. Most of Talley's fourteen-person slate was re-elected. (County election officials did find duct tape on the ballot boxes where fraud-proof seals should have been. Robinson promptly filed a complaint with the Metro-Dade police department and the State Attorney's Office.)

In the end, most drivers voted with their wallets. With plenty of overtime shifts and days off for those able to finagle them, they saw no reason to mess with the status quo.

Younger drivers especially seem thrilled at the prospect of clocking $90,000 per year in overtime. "That's wild," says Leo Michaels as he cruises down Collins Avenue through Miami Beach, on the T Route. Michaels says he had no idea his senior colleagues earned so much money. If he sticks around long enough, he will too. Courtesy of Miami-Dade County's taxpayers.

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