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Originally published Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 4:29 PM

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Metro bus drivers should forgo cost-of-living allowance this year

King County Metro drivers should expect no cost-of-living increase this year, The Seattle Times editorial board says. Nor should its new contracts for future years have a minimum cost-of-living adjustment. Currently the minimum is 2 percent.

THE bus drivers at King County Metro should forgo a cost-of-living allowance this year. Their new contract should do away with the minimum cost-of-living allowance (COLA) of 2 percent.

Nowhere in the public sector should there be such a thing as a minimum cost-of-living allowance, which is an allowance whether there is inflation or not. The public sector is not in a position to pay out COLAs right now, and it should never pay for inflation that is merely imagined.

The drivers have been doing better than the minimum.

Consider 2009. It was the year after the crash on Wall Street. Tens of thousands of workers here were laid off. The cost of living — the Consumer Price Index — inched up by a meager 0.6 percent.

The figure is not relevant to most people's pay because most people don't have COLAs. State workers have them, but the Legislature suspended them. The bus drivers at Metro, however, were not subject to suspension. They got a 3 percent COLA plus a 1 percent raise.

Now 4 percent is hardly big money, but the COLA comes every year, and it adds up. The top pay for Metro's drivers is now $28.47 an hour. Ten years ago, it was $20.73. That's a jump of 37 percent in a period when consumer prices were up 27 percent. Much of the gain against inflation has come in the past two years.

Metro has been suffering because it relies on the sales tax: nine-tenths of a cent on the dollar — a rate that has twice been raised in the past decade. Metro also charges bus fare, which it raised Jan. 1, and a new piece of the property tax.

The agency is not in a position to raise prices again — something it should keep in mind as it negotiates a new labor contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Bus drivers are paid well, and they should be. They put up with a lot of nonsense the rest of us don't have to endure. But they should know that a COLA is a thing most workers don't have.

The COLA should be suspended this year because of the financial emergency, and going forward, it should come with no minimums.

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