Muni seeks to reduce drivers' premium-time pay during off hours 

As the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency negotiates a new labor pact with its operators, managers are trying to modify a contract that rewards drivers who work off hours with what is perhaps the country’s most generous premium pay.

Muni operators, who earn $29.52 an hour in base pay, receive an 8 percent pay bump for every hour they work between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. The SFMTA wants to reduce this surcharge, while the operators union hopes to almost double it.

The transit agency paid its operators more than $2.7 million in such premium pay during the 2009-10 fiscal year.
A San Francisco Examiner survey of 12 big-city transit agencies suggests that few if any operators at those agencies earn as large a premium over as many hours as the one Muni drivers reap from working off-peak shifts.

For instance, transit operators in Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. — all agencies with extensive late-night service — receive no premium pay for working the graveyard shift.

New York’s transit operators, like those at Muni, receive late-night premium pay between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., plus a bump for any work carried out during the weekend. However, their pay bump is just 4.7 percent.

Across the Bay at AC Transit, operators earn 10 percent more for late-night work, but that rate only applies to shifts that start between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and are completed by 8 a.m.

And while BART does not operate during the early morning, its operators receive a 7 percent increase if more than half their shift is worked between 4 p.m. and midnight, and a 9.5 percent increase if more than half their shift is worked between midnight and 8 a.m.

With such comparisons in mind, SFMTA management wants to decrease its premium pay bump to 4 percent and shorten its own off-hours period to 11:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.

However, the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents transit operators, is seeking a premium rate increase from 8 to 15 percent, an SFMTA consultant said. Union Secretary-Treasurer Walter Scott declined to discuss the organization’s premium pay demands, but he said the perk is essential to retaining the agency’s most experienced drivers.

Late-night shifts pose more safety issues, Scott said, and thus require drivers who are intimately familiar with Muni’s operations. Since many experienced operators have families, extra pay is an incentive to work a late-night shift, he said.

Work rules governing SFMTA transit operators have been enshrined in the City Charter for decades, making them exempt from collective bargaining agreements. But following November’s voter approval of Proposition G, management has more bargaining leverage with the operators union.

SFMTA consultant Charles Goodyear said the agency hopes to strike a deal with operators by the end of the month. However, union members have already given their president the right to call a strike if negotiations break down.
The current contract expires June 30. The board of directors at the SFMTA, which governs Muni, must approve a new contract before then. If the two sides do reach an impasse, the negotiations could go to third-party arbitration.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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