Examiner Editorial: Naysayer Muni drivers could lose big in cuts 

By majority vote, the 2,350 Muni operators who drive The City’s buses, cable cars and light-rail vehicles rejected a request for labor concessions that would have saved $15 million and helped soften another new round of service cuts and higher fares.

Negotiations for labor givebacks — as a better alternative to mass layoffs — have become part of the annual budget process in many California localities that are facing non-stop major deficits ahead. San Francisco must balance a $522 million deficit next fiscal year and Muni’s shortfall will be $53 million.

Meanwhile, arcane work rules and compensation formulas allow drivers to collect thousands of dollars in overtime, even though the City Charter guarantees them the second-highest transit operator wages in America. Transit Workers Union Local 250-A operators are due an automatic $8 million in raises next fiscal year despite Muni’s deficit burden.

At $27.92 per hour, the average Muni operator’s yearly base pay is $60,000. But during 2009, more than one-quarter of them (622) boosted their take-home to more than $80,000 — including 82 drivers whose overtime put them over $100,000. One operator earned $78,722 from overtime and totaled $146,498 wages last year. Seventeen operators were paid more than $51,000 overtime and some 400 topped $20,000.

Inefficient work rules make grabbing such hefty payouts ludicrously easy. Drivers can presently start earning overtime pay even before they complete a 40-hour work week. Muni is forbidden to help cover the peak a.m. and p.m. commute rushes with split shifts or part-time bus operators. Numerous full-time drivers have little to do at mid-day but are still fully paid.

Another budget drain is the Muni employee pension contribution — now paid entirely by The City at 7.5 percent of wages and costing taxpayers $8.8 million this year. Among the requests just rejected by the operators was a one-time contribution to their own pension fund next fiscal year. Muni spent $41.3 million on operators’ total fringe benefits in fiscal year 2008-09, including retirement, Social Security, health and dental.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd proposed a City Charter amendment to eliminate the Muni operators’ guaranteed wages and benefits formula and put them at the bargaining table like any other unionized San Francisco employee. Predictably, this idea never even got out of committee at the Board of Supervisors. So now Elsbernd and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association will try gathering 70,000 signatures by July to put the Charter amendment onto the November ballot.

Muni operators are expected to vote again on labor concessions. The Examiner highly recommends they cooperate this time. Otherwise they give up any slight hope of convincing city voters to continue allowing the drivers’ automatic wage and benefit increases.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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