Cobb bus drivers stage apparent sickout over payroll issues

CobbLinc buses in Cobb County will be operating on a Saturday schedule on Tuesday after multiple bus drivers called in sick.

A day after some 50 Cobb bus drivers called out sick in the midst of a labor dispute over payroll issues, a county  spokesman said  Tuesday most had returned to work.

The informal strike stranded passengers and forced the county to switch to Saturday service on a weekday.

The apparent silent "sickout" appeared to be a warning shot over ongoing issues with the Ohio-based company First Transit, which took over operation of the county transit system, CobbLinc, earlier this year.

Drivers called off a strike in May after complaining they were being charged extra fees and not receiving their full paychecks.

Ken Howell, a retired bus driver and Cobb transit union representative, said the drivers had merely come down with a “bug.”

“First, we would have to take a strike vote with the membership and then it has to be approved and sanctioned by the international, and none of that has taken place,” Howell said. He acknowledged the possibility that disgruntled drivers had taken matters into their own hands by calling out sick.

Meanwhile, the Facebook page of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732 in Atlanta called for its members to stand in "solidarity" with their "brothers and sisters" in Cobb during this "work slow down." First Transit "refuses ... to give our members their paycheck in a timely manner causing major hardship to these members," the message said, comparing the company to the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Commissioner Bob Ott, the board’s liaison to the county Department of Transportation, described the sickout as a “work action” and said there have been a “variety” of issues since First Transit took over from the previous operator, whose contract was terminated when it failed to provide the necessary level of service.

Ott confirmed that First Transit was chosen after a request for bids, but did not know how many proposals the county received.

“The county has a limited amount of impact because it is a contract between First Transit and the drivers,” he said. “Moving forward, the county will of course be looking a the options in that contract to see if there’s something that can be addressed.”

Jay Brock, a spokesperson for First Transit, confirmed that the company has received complaints from drivers and are “working through” them.

“We want our employees to be paid for the hours they have worked,” he said. “If they are experiencing these issues, please bring them to us.”

Andrea Foard, the director of CobbLinc, could not immediately be reached for comment.


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