Supe targeting drunken firefighters 

At today’s Rules Committee meeting, supervisors Eric Mar and David Campos (and Michela Alioto-Pier, if she’s feeling well enough after having surgery) will hear Supervisor Chris Daly’s proposal to amend the City Charter to include a provision demanding termination of any firefighter found to be under the influence of alcohol while on duty.

Assuming progressives support the measure (and I suspect they will), this proposal will be on the ballot in November.

In 2004, the civil grand jury blasted the Fire Department for not doing enough to stop firefighters from drinking while on duty. Then in March 2005, 28 firefighters brought a lawsuit against the department demanding an end to “open and notorious” alcohol abuse among their ranks. About a month later, a battalion chief was found to be drunk while on duty. The lawsuit was later dismissed and the chief was fired, but it still looked like some fire stations were Stoppa Phi Rho frat houses filled with highly compensated beer-pong players.

In September 2005, the department began a drug and alcohol testing program that allows random screening (the prior policy did not). By March 2008, only two employees had tested positive for prohibited substances, and each was suspended 90 days and ordered into a yearlong substance abuse program that included regular screening.

This is both promising news and the genesis of the problem that Daly’s amendment seeks to address: Should a firefighter who is found to be under the influence of alcohol while on duty eventually be allowed to return to work, or should a legitimate positive test for alcohol result in automatic termination?

Of course, this would have been a much more pressing question back in 2005. In light of the fact that so few firefighters have tested positive for intoxication since the new testing policy has been in place, I asked Daly, “Why now?”

His response: “The only political upside to this is that it’s good public policy. Of course, that and $70 probably won’t be getting you a Fast Pass for much longer. Now I’m in my last year, and I’ll probably never run for anything again so there’s little political downside for me — other than having to listen to aging jocks yelling at me that I’m worse than [Dick] Cheney.”

Muni operators union takes issue with pay legislation

Those of you who rode Muni two weeks ago may have noticed fliers distributed by the Transit Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents operators.

In the handouts, the union took issue with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s proposed City Charter amendment that would eliminate the guaranteed wages and benefits of Muni operators. Instead, operators would have to bargain for their compensation.

The Rules Committee will consider Elsbernd’s proposal today. I, for one, am hoping that the committee and full Board of Supervisors approve the measure so we can endorse it on November’s ballot. Here’s why:

Since 1956, Muni operators’ wages have been based on this calculation: Look at all the comparable transit systems in the nation (in cities with populations of more than 500,000 that employ more than 400 operators) and pick the two that pay the highest wages, average those two wages, and that’s the least our operators can be paid. Presently, that’s about $29 per hour.

This little arrangement was supposed to avoid strikes. However, in 1976, voters enacted a law that basically prohibits public employees from striking, making the wage provision unnecessary.

As for benefits, the reason more than 60 percent of operators received checks for $3,000 at the end of last year is based on this calculation: Examine those same two high-paying transit systems and calculate the value of their benefits (let’s say $20); take that figure and subtract the total amount we pay operators in benefits (let’s say $14); and the difference is the amount The City has to put in a pot for operators. In our hypothetical, it’s $6.

But it was $6 million in 2009.

At the end of each year, that pot of money is divided up among operators based on the number of hours worked. This year, regular full-time employees netted about $3,000 each.

In the flier that was distributed, the union argued that the $3,000 is not a “bonus” but a payment to make up for the fact that operators with dependents don’t get the same amount of health care benefits as other city employees with dependents. But the pot of money isn’t limited to employees who claim dependents. Even a single operator with fully paid health insurance and no dependents was given $3,000 if they worked enough hours, so the union’s rationale doesn’t fly.

In fact, the charter was amended to allow the “pot of benefits money” for operators in the November 1967 election. According to that voter guide, The City needed to beef up operator benefits because we were having a hard time retaining and recruiting operators. But in this economy, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would view simply having a job as a “bonus.”

To recap: Muni operators enjoy an automatic wage calculation because voters wanted to avoid a strike that now will never happen, and they get a benefits payout that was created to attract applicants when people are presently desperate for work.

As the public braces for yet another round of Muni fare hikes, meter increases and service cuts, it will take a lot more than a flier to explain why operators’ salaries and benefits should not be negotiable.

Assemblyman wants to help death teams

Did you know that California law allows counties to create Elder Death Review Teams? It does — and San Francisco has one!

The teams — comprising law enforcement officials and caregiving professionals — help identify and review suspicious deaths of elderly people. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation (AB 535) requiring nursing homes to report deaths to the teams and making it easier for the teams to obtain death-related documents and information from nursing facilities.

I’m guessing this will end up on the Fox News ticker as “California Elder Death Review Teams to Get Information From Nursing Homes.”

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Melissa Griffin

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