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RTD plans to lay off hundreds of employees as agency sees budget cuts due to coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 6:59 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-14 17:47:33-04

DENVER – The Regional Transportation District on Tuesday said it plans to lay off hundreds of employees to make up for massive budget cuts created, in part, by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a memo provided to employees Tuesday, chief executive officer and general manager Paul Ballar told them RTD anticipates a $166 million budget shortfall in 2021, with more budget cuts at least that amount or more in the near future.

“RTD, like much of the world, is having to face the reality of our times by addressing the financial impact of the pandemic,” Ballard said in the memo. “These are difficult times requiring difficult decisions, but we will work through this and stay committed to keeping our employee family and the public informed with the facts as they evolve.”

The largest group that will be affected by this potential cuts will be bus drivers, according to Lance Longenbohn, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union-1001, the union representing RTD employees. Maintenance crews and management positions will be affected as well, he said in an interview with Denver7.

In all, about 635 part-time and full-time positions for represented and salaried staff would be nixed. Currently vacant positions would also be eliminated from the 2021 budget.

The proposed budget cuts will also freeze pay increases for salaried employees, force the implementation of tiered furloughs and deferring $114 million in capital and maintenance projects.

“We don’t believe RTD should be taking any steps of this magnitude without giving her (incoming CEO Debra Johnson) the opportunity to come and take a look at the facts and make evaluations and recommendations of her own,” Longenbohn said. “It’s all premature and it’s all heavily weighted towards represented folks – the heroes who are out there in the front lines are being treated like zeroes in this proposed plan.”

Longenbohn also said the proposed layoffs would cripple the agency from its ability to provide a necessary service to thousands of people who rely on transportation to provide for their families.

RTD said in a news release it is currently carrying about 40% of its pre-COVID-19 level of ridership and is providing 60% of its pre-pandemic level of service while continuing to employ 100% of its workforce, adding that funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowed the agency to maintain those staffing levels. But that funding will be depleted by the end of the year, officials said.

Before any cuts can happen, however, RTD would need approval from its board of directors. An Internal COVID-19 Fiscal Response Task Force will meet with the RTD board of directors on Sept. 15 to discuss the proposed budget and staffing cuts.

Editor's note on Sept. 14 at 3:44 p.m.: An updated RTD board meeting packet shows the budget shortfall is now sitting at $215 million instead of the initial $166 million. The projected layoffs have decreased from 635 to 550.