HART administrators get raises, union workers left out after transportation tax decision

Hundreds of bus drivers in Hillsborough County are furious over pay raises that never came.

When the penny transportation tax was thrown out by the state Supreme Court last month, pay raises for some HART employees went with it.

Their union contract, agreed to a year ago, stipulated $13.25 million in raises and other improvements for HART's 600 workers, but the raises depended on HART getting Hillsborough's transit tax money

Paratransit van operator Sara Bimbo was counting on a raise from $19.19 an hour to $25.99 an hour, the difference between a $40,000 salary and a $54,000 salary.

"You wouldn't have to struggle and worry, worrying about paycheck to paycheck, where your next meal is going to come from," she said. "I am still devastated by it."

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She's also angry. Some non-union employees, including the former CEO and others in management positions, got their raises.

Last July, an outside firm issued a study commissioned under previous HART CEO Ben Limmer and found that HART's non-union employees in positions like managers, accountants, analysts and paralegals were underpaid. 

The board then approved $662,000 in raises for 91 employees; an average of about $7,300 each, per year. 

The director of transportation got $19,000, a systems administrator got $21,000, an analyst got $22,000 and the director of financial operations got $31,000. 

Carolyn House Stewart, who was CEO when the budget went to the board and is now their legal director, got almost $25,000. 

"She would be accurate in her feeling and her concern," said current CEO Adelee Le Grand. "I empathize with her and her colleagues, but they need more from me than empathy, so really, it's how are we going to right this?"

She promises to reexamine all the administrative raises and to not wait for Hillsborough County commissioners to reapprove and collect a transit tax to give raises to drivers like Sara.

Tools and job improvements for union workers -- including equipment, healthcare, and holiday pay -- are also held off by the tax shortfall. County commissioners plan to discuss this at the next board meeting in early April.