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Metra OKs $1.4 million in salary hikes

Updated: January 17, 2013 7:45PM

Metra Board members Thursday approved $1.4 million in salary and benefit hikes after learning that nearly 300 non-union employees were receiving “below-market-average’’ wages.

The wage bumps to roughly 70 percent of the non-union workforce come less than a month before Metra in effect raises the price of a 10-ride ticket for the second year in a row.

However, Metra Chief Executive Officer Alex Clifford noted that non-union employees have gone without raises since 2009, and the $1.4 million in compensation hikes are even less than the $3.9 million budgeted. With 30 percent of Metra workers expected to retire in five years, the “salary adjustments” to 299 non-union employees, effective Jan. 1, are critical to recruiting “quality candidates,’’ Clifford said.

Some Metra non-union employees were being paid less than the people they supervised, according to a “classification and compensation” report by Public Sector Personnel Consultants. Some were underpaid by as much as 20 percent compared to peers, and will see pay bumps of a maximum 9 percent per year phased in over several years, Metra officials said.

Also Thursday, a narrow majority of board members agreed to a proposal that they sign-off on every non-union new hire or promotion involving a salary of at least $75,000. A lively debate on the topic included concerns by board member Jack Schaffer that signoffs on such a low pay threshold amounted to “micromanaging.’’

“Come on guys. Are you going to hire the janitor around here, too?” Schaffer asked fellow board members. “This is ridiculous.”

However, board member Mike McCoy persuaded a majority of the board to lower the threshold from $100,000 to $75,000 after arguing that he’s been repeatedly asked what Metra is doing to avoid a repeat of the salary problems that occurred under former top Metra boss Philip Pagano.

In 2010, Pagano took his life by stepping in front of a Metra train amid an internal investigation of bonuses and cash advances he had awarded himself. A Chicago Sun-Times/Better Government investigation showed Pagano also had authorized as much as $428,000 in vacation and other benefits to Metra managers in 2008 alone.

Board members agreed to give themselves 90 more days to hammer out the wording and scope of a proposal that would require them to disclose inquiries about jobs and contracts.

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