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Alta releases statement on employee wage inquiry

Posted by on June 20th, 2013 at 10:59 am

Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share has released an official statement about an inquiry into the companies employee labor practices. At the end of last month, sixteen current and past employees of the Alta-run Capital Bikeshare system in Washington D.C., went public with allegations that the company had underpaid them and failed to provide federally mandated health benefits. An online petition in the form of a letter to Alta VP Mia Birk has over 1,500 signatures.

Alta released a brief statement on May 27th and Birk commented on the issue in a BikePortland story on June 11th; but today’s statement offers their most detailed explanation of the issue to date.

A central issue to the wage complaint is that Alta hasn’t paid specific types of workers the associated federal prevailing wage for their positions. However, Alta says (via their statement) that the reason for this oversight is because many of their bike share jobs are in a “cutting edge industry” and they are not listed in the prevailing wage guidelines. “We have been very thoroughly working to determine the best classification for our jobs,” reads the statement.

Alta says they have “undertaken an exhaustive review” of Capital Bikeshare-related contracts “to further ensure we are treating our employees with the respect they deserve.”

As for the ongoing Department of Labor inquiry, Alta says it has been time-consuming and the ultimate timeline, “will depend on the Department of Labor.”

The full text of the statement is below:

Official Statement on Department of Labor Federal Wage Inquiry

In mid-April of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor requested information from Capital Bikeshare operator Alta Bicycle Share about compliance with federal wage guidelines in our contract with the District Department of Transportation. Since that time, we have been working diligently to provide the department with the information they have requested. This process began well before any mention of the request was highlighted by the media or any other organization, and Alta is committed to ensuring that we are in complete compliance with the wage and benefit components of all our contracts. Accordingly, Alta has undertaken an exhaustive review of the four Capital Bikeshare-related contracts in the DC area, as well as all other contracts for systems we operate, to further ensure we are treating our employees with the respect they deserve. As most of our jobs in this cutting edge industry are not currently listed in the prevailing wage guidelines, we have been very thoroughly working to determine the best classification for our jobs.

Capital Bikeshare was Alta’s first system in the US, and we are very proud of its success. Since we started in September of 2010, Capital Bikeshare’s more than 20,000 annual and monthly members, plus hundreds of thousands for short term users, have logged over 4 million bike trips in the region. Alta strongly believes in the power of bicycling to transform cities into more livable spaces. We also strongly believe that success of our company, and of bike share as a concept in the US, has been due in large part to the people we have tasked with making the system work. From rebalancers and bike mechanics, to our station technicians and support staff, we value the hard work of each and every employee and the contribution they have made to our successes. A bike share system is nothing without the staff to make it work.

This has been a time consuming process, and one that necessarily has to be done under the oversight of the Department of Labor. We intend to resolve as soon as possible, but the timeline will depend on the Department of Labor.

We ask for your patience and hope you continue to enjoy Capital Bikeshare.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Babygorilla June 20, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Weren’t the complaints from truck drivers and bicycle repair technicians? Two minutes of Google brings these up these guidelines for federal service contracts:

    Bicycle repairer: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/wage/p23120.htm

    Drivers: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/wage/p31000.htm

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    • Uncle Muscles June 20, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Yeah, that statement is a complete cop-out. Bicycle rental is not a “cutting edge industry” as Alta would like to claim. Stop digging a deeper hole and start paying people.

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  • Aaronf June 20, 2013 at 11:26 am

    “As most of our jobs in this cutting edge industry are not currently listed in the prevailing wage guidelines,”

    Alta, please come out from behind your PR firewall and address this point from your press release, given that it seems to contradict the info supplied by the very first comment here. Truck drivers aren’t cutting edge.

    In my experience, saying “we are having a disagreement with regulators,” can often mean “we are dragging our heels as long as possible until regulators force us to pay prevailing wages.” Nobody wants to pay prevailing wages if they think they can get away with it. Are you gagged from explaining why specifically you read the existing guidelines and decided “not us!” or what?

    So Alta, please show a little good faith and explain yourselves more better!

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  • dan June 20, 2013 at 11:44 am

    How does that statement address the issue of Alta’s failure to provide health benefits? Looks like PR fluff to me.

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  • Bjorn June 20, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I don’t know I found this site that lists the prevailing wages in DC for bike repair at less not more than the guy was being paid. I am not expert in prevailing wages so I may not have checked the right boxes but I wonder if this does come down to how someones job is classified.


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    • Joseph E June 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Those are the average wages paid by private employers. That’s why Alta could hire people at the wages they offered; they are paying a reasonable price for the market.

      But the “federal prevailing wage” is calculated differently, and usually pays at the top end of the scale for some of these jobs. For example, one of the truck drivers says he was paid $13.00 per hour, but the federal wage was $15.66 per hour.

      Personally, I question why the government should be paying higher than average wages, in addition to high than average benefits. If government contractors could pay the free-market prevailing wage, we could get more from our tax dollars.

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      • was carless June 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

        One could argue that EVERY job should get a $10/hour minimum wage BOOST on top of what they’re getting paid now. Would help tremendously to help narrow the rich-vs-poor gap a bit.

        Denmark avg. min. wage is $20/hour.

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        • A June 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm

          Increasing minimum wage by $10 across the board would just devalue currency, if you’re interested in narrowing the pay gap salaries at the top have to be reduced.

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          • Psyfalcon June 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm

            Well, $10 more on someone making 100/hr is less than those making $7.25. Its pennies to the $1mil crowd. It does act to shrink the wage gap.

            Raising the floor would either reduce profits (which are actually very high for many companies right now) and CEO pay, or they’d just fire everyone. Sadly, I’m pretty sure they’d just fire everyone.

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            • davemess June 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm

              Not really when you consider how many people are on the bottom (massive amounts) and how many are on the top (very few). Thus this would require 100’s of millions an hour. And I guess is technically decreases the wage gap, but there is very little difference between 17 vs 20000 and 7 vs 20000 That money is not going to come from thin air, and A is right, it would lead to massive currency devaluation.

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              • GlowBoy June 24, 2013 at 7:32 am

                Few economists would agree. An across-the-board increase of $10/hour to ALL workers, regardless of current pay, would cause a wage-price spiral. An increase in the minimum wage (which is paid not to all workers, just the poorest ones) would not.

                There’s a pretty strong consensus among economists that increasing the minimum wage to at least 1970s-1980s levels (and it is far, FAR below that now, when adjusted for inflation) would NOT cause the large increases in unemployment or inflation that conservatives claim. In the cases where it does cause jobs to be lost it is usually offset by improvements in efficiency and productivity, which create new higher-paying jobs and benefit the economy as a whole (or would, if we had a tax structure that didn’t confine the benefits of the last 3 decades’ massive productivity gains to the investor class).

                Our now-pitifully low minimum wage is also a big reason for all the illegal immigration we have now. If the minimum wage were high enough for more Americans to actually live on, more Americans would take those jobs, and fewer people would sneak into the country. That ought to be a DUH moment, but it’s a sad statement on our nation’s political climate that “low minimum wages promote illegal immigration” isn’t any more obvious to the average Joe than “driving makes you fat”. Things that are obvious to the average Joe in many other countries.

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  • Jon June 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I guess I have trouble understanding how this works since I have only worked in the private sector for the last 20+ years. When I have been offered a job I know what he pay & benefits are before I take the job. If I did not agree with the amount the employer offered me I did not take the job. After I was employed my employer gave me raises if I did well and fired me if I did not. If another employer offered me more pay and benefits I have always had the option to work for them.

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    • was carless June 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Yeah, but this is the federal government we’re talking about. And since this is in DC, its a federal project, with all the rules that comes along – a big baggage train.

      What I don’t understand is why Alta isn’t considered a “contractor” – AFAIK the rules are a little different there, but my knowledge is from Oregon, where employers can just skip things like “benefits,” “insurance” and the like.

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      • Aaronf June 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

        Even in Oregon, if you work on a federally funded highway project you will most likely get paid prevailing wage. Contractors complain about it all the time.

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    • Aaronf June 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      If you want to better understand, make sure you read the allegations from the employees, linked at the top of the story. They are claiming that benefits were promised and then quickly taken away after hiring, among other things. Obviously it is up to them to prove this claim. Having worked in public and private sector, I would say it is disappointing in either setting when you are promised something and then it never materializes.

      If you simply don’t like the concept of prevailing wage jobs (you can find an economist to agree with any position) I fail to see the relevance of that expression to this story.

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  • Brad June 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Ahhhh…so what Wal-Mart does is “cutting edge” too?

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  • CaptainKarma June 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Can we see a wage and/or profit-sharing/compensation distribution graph for all Alta “associates”?

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  • G June 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    thats what makes government contract so expensive, you have to pay everyone prevaling wage and beneifits. why does some pushing a broom and just driving a delivery truck warrent 30+ and hour + benefits…
    tax dollars at work…

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    • aaronf June 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Money paid to these broom-pushing truck drivers eventually makes it back into the economy when they spend it on flat-screen TVs and shoes for their children at local stores. It’s a good way to spread the wealth from a federal contract to businesses which are not in a “shovel-ready” industry more easily supported by a Jobs spending bill earmark. If you gave that money to a hard working (rich) banker or gave a big corp a tax break, they would be much more likely to sit on the money and take it out of the economy.

      But the story here is not about prevailing wage jobs, which will (fortunately) continue to exist without your support. The story is about Alta allegedly breaking promises. You got anything to say about that?

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      • bjorn June 20, 2013 at 7:37 pm

        I haven’t seen any proof of Alta breaking a promise, the prevailing wage thing seems like something that will either be proven true or false, and at this point I think it is hard to tell for sure who is in the right, but anyone who takes a job should have their compensation in writing, I can’t imagine making a verbal contract for long term employment. Without anything written I’m not really willing to convict Alta here.

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        • aaronf June 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

          I don’t see where I suggested I was ready to convict Alta of anything. Are you suggesting that I did?

          As far as being “proven true or false” I’m not so sure I agree with you. A decision will probably be made, but it will be based on the evidence gathered, and the decision of a regulator. If Alta lied to these people but were careful to keep everything out of writing then I suppose the people were conned fair and square. I wasn’t there. I’m not presuming. Alta’s defense has been awful so far though. But who knows what will happen. Do you have any insight, bjorn?

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