Bus and trolley drivers file class action against SEPTA for overtime

A veteran labor lawyer filed suit against SEPTA this week in federal District Court, alleging it violated federal employment law by failing to pay bus and trolley drivers for maintenance checks they perform on their vehicles.

Bruce Bodner, a lawyer who has represented SEPTA’s largest union, filed the case on behalf of 15 bus and trolley drivers. Court documents indicate he will seek class-action status for the case.

State law requires bus and trolley drivers to conduct a safety check for their vehicles before departing on their runs. This involves checking 19 separate items, including the brakes, horns and public announcement systems. The usually takes about 15 minutes to complete, according to the complaint. Before leaving the depot, drivers are required to leave behind a signed and completed checklist showing their work.

Drivers can have their licenses suspended for a year and face a $100 fine from the state if they fail to perform the checks, according to the complaint.

The problem, according to the suit, is that SEPTA doesn’t pay workers for these checks. And the complaint alleges that, if bus and trolley drivers were paid for these checks, they would be working more than 40 hours a week and would thus be owed overtime pay ― time and a half ― for the checks.

(A separate complaint is being filed regarding vehicle checks drivers conduct after their runs are completed at the end of the work day.)

By failing to pay the drivers, SEPTA committed “a willful violation” of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the complaint because it forced workers to perform “integral and indispensable part of [their] principal activities” using off-the-clock overtime.

The suit seeks three years worth of back pay for the drivers, plus interest and attorneys’ fees and says that SEPTA keeps records that will allow it to determine how much overtime drivers are owed.

In addition to the 15 named plaintiffs, the suit says that several thousand other bus and trolley drivers from various SEPTA operating divisions can potentially be covered under the suit. It also argues that the drivers’ labor contract can’t waive their right to the compensation.

SEPTA didn’t return a call for comment.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.