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Spinning our Wheels

Spinning our Wheels is a commuting blog about the challenges of getting around Atlanta by car, bus, MARTA, bicycles and on foot written by transportation reporter David Wickert

Incentives key to improving worker attendance at MARTA?

Chronic absenteeism has been plaguing MARTA for years and last year cost the transit agency $13.6 million.

On any given day, one in three MARTA employees is absent from work because of an unplanned event. And for bus drivers, maintenance workers or train operators, that absence rate exceeds 50 percent. A story in today's AJC goes into much more detail about that, and about the MARTA's board vote Sept. 3 to outsource absence management to a private company as a way to rein in those costs through closer oversight.

But labor experts say absenteeism can also be addressed quite effectively through incentives.

Phil LaPorte is professor emeritus at Georgia State University's College of Law and regional chair of the National Academy of Arbitrators. As an expert on labor issues, he has served as an arbitrator between MARTA management and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732. (Sixty-two percent of MARTA employees are in the union).

He said some employers have incentive plans that boost employee attendance. For example, they might provide an end-of-year bonus for employees who don't miss a scheduled shift for the entire year. Others allow workers to build up vacation time and cash out unused time at year's end.

Still other employers try to encourage good health - and thus fewer absences - by offering wellness programs. For example, discounts on healthcare coverage to those who keep their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and other health indicators in check.

Do you think those kinds of incentives would get more MARTA employees to work? Would they motivate you? Why or why not?

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