Prop. G passage means changes loom for Muni perks 

If last year’s elections proved anything, it’s that San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approve of two things — legalizing marijuana and putting a stop to the plushy benefits enjoyed by Muni’s transit operators.

In November, nearly 65 percent of San Francisco voters approved Proposition G, an initiative aimed at reforming work rules for Muni operators.

Thanks to a sweetheart labor contract, Muni operators are the second-highest-paid transit drivers in the country even though they miss work for unexplained reasons on 13 percent of their scheduled runs. Muni’s 2,200 unionized drivers are also impossible to fire because of job-protection requirements.

But because of Prop. G, the salad days for Muni operators may finally be coming to an end.

The existing contract between the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, and the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A expires on June 30. And in the coming months, union leaders and management will be tussling over wages, benefits and perks.

The SFMTA board of directors will meet Tuesday to discuss negotiation strategies with the union, the first of several such planned conferences.

Prop. G allows SFMTA management to negotiate the terms of the union’s pay wages, which, under the current system, are set at $29.52 an hour. Every two years, the hourly wage is adjusted to assure that TWU workers are always at least the nation’s second-highest-paid.

While reviewing the wage structure of the TWU is important, changing the union’s work rules should be the No. 1 priority for the SFMTA, according to Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and San Francisco Planning and Urban Ressearch Association Executive Director Gabe Metcalf, the two leading architects of Prop. G.

In a letter obtained by The San Francisco Examiner, Metcalf and Elsbernd urge SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford to allow the agency to hire part-time operators, make drivers work 40 hours a week before collecting overtime and give management greater authority over discipline issues.

“In the next round of labor negotiations, you have the opportunity to make changes that will be more than just incremental progress toward a world-class transit system that will attract increasing numbers of riders,” the two wrote in their letter.

Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the TWU, said the organization has routinely been unfairly blamed for the SFMTA’s budget problems.

“Our job is to get up, go to work, and then come back home to our families,” Scott said.

Scott didn’t have a specific date for when the two sides would sit down and talk, but said it would be soon.

Facts and figures

$29.52: Hourly wage for Muni operators
$8 million: Collective cost of operators’ last pay increase
$19 million: Cost savings of labor concessions twice rejected by operators
64.94: Percent majority of voters who approved Prop. G

Source: SFMTA

What’s being negotiated

- Pay wages. Muni’s pay structure is currently enshrined in the City Charter. It stipulates that the base for operators is the average of the two highest-paid public operator groups in the country.
- Work rules. Currently, it’s nearly impossible to hire part-time workers. Operators can collect overtime without working 40 hours a week because there are no part-timers to work during off-peak hours.
- Health benefits. The SFMTA distributes funding for the operators that goes toward a health care “trust fund.” This year’s total is expected to be $3.5 million.
- Parking. The SFMTA wants to charge operators $80 a month to park on department property.

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Will Reisman

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