Muni's savings on labor less than first projected 

After three months of heated labor talks with its powerful operators union, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency says it has negotiated $7.1 million in annual contract savings — far lower than its original projections of “at least $26 million” a year.

But labor experts and officials familiar with the talks suggest that projecting the proposed pact’s true value and savings is nearly impossible, and both sides are claiming satisfaction with the tentative plan.

Union members must ratify the proposed contract by Wednesday or talks will continue before an arbitrator. Union members twice rejected their leadership’s contract recommendations last year, and spokesmen for both sides said they are pushing for the deal to be approved.

That’s probably why few people from either side would discuss the pact on the record. Officials familiar with the talks, who declined to be named, predicted annual savings estimates ranging from just $3 million to $25 million. Even the SFMTA has said its projection of $7.1 million in annual savings over the three-year contract is likely to change once the contract’s full scope is analyzed.

As part of the talks, the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents roughly 2,000 Muni operators, agreed to a three-year wage freeze, reduction in overtime pay opportunities, and the ability for the SFMTA to hire part-time drivers. Other proposals, including a 10 percent wage cut, the reduction of premium nighttime pay and the elimination of paid lunch breaks, were dropped.

San Francisco State University labor professor John Logan said the SFMTA could have floated its initial $26 million savings estimate as a way to coax the union into accepting smaller concessions.

“That $26 million in savings was an extremely high figure and it would be difficult to imagine how they could do that,” Logan said. “But they got significant gains out of the talks when it comes to changes to the union’s work rules, which could be of great benefit in the future.”

Logan said both sides have reasons to want the deal’s passage. Given the current fiscal environment, the union is unlikely to get a better shake from an independent arbitrator. Meanwhile, the SFMTA could realize far greater future savings from the work rule changes, he said.

A union official who declined to be named said they thought the contract was a “pretty good deal.”

“This was truly a win-win situation,” SFMTA Chairman Tom Nolan said. “They got some things they wanted, and we got some things we wanted.”

With both sides seeing an advantage in having the union membership ratify the agreement, neither side wants to rock the boat right now, said Ken Jacobs, chair of the labor center at UC Berkeley.

“With these kinds of cases, it’s rare that someone declares defeat on either side of the negotiations,” Jacobs said. “There does seem that there were some compromises made, and now both sides have to go out and sell this deal to the union members.”

Latest numbers

  • $26 million: Originally projected annual SFMTA savings from contract talks with union
  • $7.1 million: Revised annual savings from contract talks (although figure is likely to change)
  • $818 million: SFMTA year-end budget
  • $22.3 million: Projected 2011-12 SFMTA budget shortfall

Source: SFMTA

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