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posted: 1/23/2013 1:17 PM

Metra raises out of sync with fare hikes

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Say you're just going along doing your job and one day your boss starts to wonder whether you're being paid enough. So your boss hires someone (and pays him a pretty penny) to ask around and find out what other people doing jobs like yours are making. And lo and behold, that someone tells your boss that the people he surveyed are making more than you.

So your boss gives you a raise. And not a little raise -- a 33 percent raise over the next several years.

Too bad it's just a dream, right?

Not if you're working at Metra.

That's where directors slipped through a measure last week giving $1.4 million in raises to 299 employees.

The raises, given in increments of up to 9 percent a year, boosted an accounts payable manager 33 percent from $51,418 to $68,407; a senior human resources manager 18 percent from $61,950 to $73,214; an electrical engineer 14.5 percent from $74,581 to $85,417; and so on.

Metra employees also got 2 percent raises Jan. 1, which directors said were the first raises since 2009.

Now, this all sounds good -- very good -- if you're an employee that got a double-digit raise. Some people did not get raises after the review by Public Sector Personnel Consultants, which was paid $100,000.

But what sounds like a dream for Metra employees is more like a nightmare for Metra riders and for anyone who pays sales taxes, a portion of which go to mass transit.

Riders on the commuter rail service have to pay 11 percent more for 10-ride tickets Feb. 1, funding operations and equipment upgrades. That's on top of fare hikes of 29 to 30 percent for monthly passes and 10-ride tickets that took effect on Feb. 1, 2012.

It's outrageous to impose big fare hikes with one hand and dole out big raises with the other.

Metra CEO Alex Clifford says the new salaries are to make the jobs attractive to future candidates when the current employees have retired. Clifford says 30 percent of his employees are close to retirement age and that railroad expertise is in short supply.

It seems to us that mass transit has enough problems without spending money on one that might not materialize. Why not wait until a job opens up before determining if its salary is a hindrance to attracting good prospects? Or set a more modest catch-up schedule if salaries are out of whack?

Metra must have had a feeling levelheaded people would react this way. Agency leaders hid the motion for the pay hikes inside a complicated ordinance creating a new committee on salaries and promotions. They kept the salary report off their website and out of reporters' hands until after the raises were a done deal.

So much for all that transparency Metra has been touting.

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