During their last meeting of the year, Link Transit board voted to extend their retention bonus program through March 31, 2023.

This would total to $70,000 and would be added to Link Transit’s 2023 Final Budget.

Discussion on granting their bus drivers a retention bonus began in July, in order to combat their growing understaffing issue.

In August, the board voted 4-5 to approve a one-time $2,500 bonus for their drivers, and was ultimately rejected.

On Sep. 8, Link Transit announced that they were reducing public transportation services starting in October, due to a shortage of bus drivers. 

In that same meeting, the board approved a $1,200 retention bonus that would be divided into $400 monthly payments.

Link Transit General Manager Richard DeRock shared that they currently have about 80 bus drivers on staff, due to bus drivers either retiring or leaving for higher-paying jobs.

“I'm being as honest as I can about this. I just don't know where to go with it,” DeRock said. “I know that I think a desired route was to address this through our wages, and I think we tried to make some adjustments there, but have we solved the problem? No, we haven't solved the problem yet.”

DeRock states that the board budgeted for 96 driver salary packages in 2022 and 116 drivers salary packages for 2023.

DeRock is also concerned about Link Transit falling further behind in their service expansion plan.

“We're way behind where we're supposed to be. Not only were we 21 people short this year, we're short the expansion that was supposed to take place as well, and catching up on that is gonna take a lot of people,” DeRock said. “We went the wrong direction, we shrank, we actually are operating fewer weekday hours than we were two and a half years ago.”

Chelan Mayor Bob Goedde said he did not support the retention bonuses, claiming that people “don’t want to work anymore.” 

“I have about 70 employees, a very aggressive union,” Goedde said. “I don’t want this to be the precedent set for everybody in Central Washington and it could well become that, so think about it.”

Cashmere Mayor Jim Fletcher said the economy is currently too volatile and recommends reducing bus services instead of accepting retention bonuses.

Rock Island Mayor Randy Agnew suggested replacing this retention bonus program with a hiring bonus program to incentivize more applicants.

Douglas County Commissioner Marc Straub said he is concerned that if the board accepts these bonuses, that they will be institutionalized and make it harder for them to suspend the bonuses in the future.

Leavenworth City Councilmember Anne Hessburg said approving these bonuses would help keep Link Transit competitive in the job market.

Motion to extend the $1,200 retention bonuses passed with a 6-5 vote.

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