Bloated overtime, work rules drain SFMTA 

Union work rules that allow drivers to rake in overtime pay, along with inefficiencies in scheduling and management of operators, are wasting more than $3 million a year in Muni funds — a problem that will likely persist unless work rules are changed.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, could save $3.1 million a year by altering a handful of labor practices, according to a new audit from the Board of Supervisors budget and legislative analyst.

One example of a costly work rule is the contract with the unionized operators that prevents the agency from hiring part-time operators, according to SFMTA chief Nathaniel Ford. Any time an operator misses a shift for an unforeseen reason, the replacement for that run is paid overtime. Additionally, drivers are paid to be on standby scheduling from their home.

The audit reported that Muni operators have an unscheduled absence rate of 15 percent, a mark that’s the highest of five other national transit agencies scrutinized in the study.

Overall, the SFMTA paid $31 million in overtime costs to its operators this fiscal year. The total budget for the agency is $750 million.

The SFMTA could save $1.4 million annually by restricting its rules for unscheduled overtime pay and $1.2 million by changing the manner in which it pays for operators on standby, according to the audit.

In addition, there are seven employee positions designed solely to negotiate between the operators union and agency management.

The SFMTA concurred with all the findings, though Ford said the agency’s hands are tied due to its current contract with the Transport Operators Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni’s 2,200 operators.

“Clearly, we need to work more as it relates to hiring part-time operators,” Ford said. “But we have to have the opportunity and the right environment to successfully negotiate these archaic work rules to run a more-efficient system.”

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is working on a ballot initiative for November that, if passed by voters, would reform operator work rules.

The audit comes just after the agency cut service by 10 percent in an effort to save $29 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The union for the operators is under pressure from Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials to accept labor concessions.

Local 250-A, which is set to receive $9 million in pay increases July 1, is the only union within the SFMTA that has not accepted labor concessions.

Union representatives did not respond to calls Tuesday.

The limited-scope management audit, the first of its kind in 14 years, also looked at the governance and independence of the SFMTA board of directors, all of whom are appointed by Newsom.

The audit found that the board lacked proper training, did not evaluate and identify the agency’s strategic goals, and lacked a process to evaluate its effectiveness as a governing body.

A second, more robust management audit is expected to be released this summer.

Seven Muni operators paid to be union-agency mediators

Seven Muni operators collectively earn more than $600,000 a year, though none of them are required to drive a single transit vehicle.

The seven employees work solely as mediators between management of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, and the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, the organization that represents the department’s 2,200 operators.

Each employee represents an operators’ division, the site where drivers are deployed to start their shift. All seven workers earn more than $80,000 a year, and the highest-paid rakes in $93,950 annually, according to SFMTA documents.

All told, the workers make $608,625 a year.

One recommendation from the SFMTA management audit that was released Tuesday suggested eliminating six of the seven positions, a move that would save the agency $500,000 a year.

Management concurred with the recommendation, but added that the proposal was subject to labor negotiations and required extensive analysis.

— Will Reisman

Where SFMTA can save money

The SFMTA, bound by union rules, spends cash on standby pay and for workers filling in for absent drivers.

2,172 Current number of Muni operators

$1.2 million Amount SFMTA could save in reducing operator-standby pay

$500,000 Amount SFMTA could save by eliminating union-mediator positions

$1.4 million Amount SFMTA could save by reducing unscheduled overtime costs

$31 million Total overtime pay for Muni operators

15 percent Unexplained absentee rate of Muni operators

Source: Board of Supervisors budget and legislative analyst

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Will Reisman

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