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Payroll glitch shorts drivers
Hundreds of VTA workers affected
BY TRACEY KAPLAN
Mercury News Staff Writer
Most workers look forward to payday, but Santa Clara County bus and light-rail drivers are so disgusted with their payroll department they're calling it ``no-way day.'' As in, no way can they count on being paid the right amount.
Hundreds of drivers have been shorted hundreds of thousands of dollars since the Valley Transit Authority installed a new, $440,000 payroll system late last year.
One driver was paid only $161 for two weeks' work. Others got $400 less than they were owed -- a significant deficit on biweekly paychecks that can be as low as $690. Drivers earn between $18,000 and $31,000 a year.
Bus driver Mark O'Neill has twice lost out. His March 3 paycheck was $332.51 short. But, heaping insult on injury, the check the agency issued to make up the difference bounced, leaving him without enough cash to pay his 9-year-old son's tuition.
``I knew it was a computer glitch,'' O'Neill said. ``But what frustrates me is, this is Silicon Valley, so why didn't they test the new system before installing it?''
No one has a good answer.
Frank Martin, the agency's new operations manager, said his predecessors had done some testing, ``but probably not enough.''
Martin said the payroll and scheduling system from the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm of Multisystems Inc. will not be fixed for up to 45 more days, or three more pay periods.
But even that timetable may be optimistic.
Two years ago, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bought a similar system from Multisystems and has been having trouble with it ever since, a spokesman there said.
The company could not be reached for comment, but Martin said it has agreed to fix the glitches. The VTA will still have to spend an additional $455,000 to hire additional computer consultants to work on the system and link it to the agency's other computers.
In the meantime, administrative employees are working overtime on weekends in hopes of preventing the mistakes that have affected many of the agency's 1,185 drivers. The mistakes have hit a different group of about 6 percent to 8 percent of the drivers each pay period since Dec. 27, Martin said.
``This is not a small problem when it happens to you and your paycheck, and we're certainly working on it,'' said VTA spokeswoman Anne-Catherine Vinickas.
Despite official assurances, some employees are bitter about the situation.
Local 265 of the Amalgamated Transit Union is circulating fliers urging employees to boycott the bus and light-rail ``roadeos,'' annual competitions that showcase drivers' skills at management conferences. Among other barbs, the flier proposes that executives compete to buy defective computer programs in a contest called the ``Software Shuffle.'' Contestants would lose points for demanding accountability from software companies and for making software specifications that work.
The irony is that VTA officials bought the new system to replace one that had an unacceptable error rate of 1.8 percent when handling the total $56 million payroll. But the new error rate has soared as high as 4 percent and is now at the same stubborn 1.8 percent.
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 22, 2000