Muni Operator Wage Measure Now Official

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A ballot measure that would change the way Muni operator wages and benefits are set now has an official name and summary from the City Attorney’s Office.

The measure [PDF], titled "Setting Transit Operator Wages Through Collective Bargaining," would do just that: instead of the current City Charter provision requiring the MTA to set operator wages at the average rate of the two highest paying transit agencies in the country, salaries would be set entirely through collective bargaining.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) drafted the measure and must collect 70,000 signatures by July 6 to get it on the November ballot. They can begin gathering those signatures as soon as they publish the title and summary of the measure in a major newspaper.

"We are getting ready to take the next step in a major effort to improve the management of Muni, by asking voters to place a reform measure on the November ballot," said SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf. "Our goal is to be on the street collecting signatures by April 1."

The measure’s supporters argue it would not only lead to more manageable operator costs, but would also give the MTA leverage to negotiate work rules that could curb widespread absenteeism. Irwin Lum, President of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators, has argued that the current charter provision has led to over 40 years of labor peace.

Here’s the full summary of the measure, straight from the City Attorney’s office:

  • Allow the City to set Muni operator wages and benefits through collective bargaining, and eliminate the requirement that Muni operator wages be at least as high as the average wage rate for transit operators in the two highest paying comparable transit systems.
  • Eliminate the transit operator trust fund and any City payments into it.
  • Make incentive bonuses for the MTA Director and "service critical" MTA managers and employees optional instead of required.
  • Require binding arbitration when the MTA and employee unions representing Muni operators are unable to agree in collective bargaining.
  • Set rules for arbitration proceedings regarding MTA employees. The arbitrators would consider the impact of disputed proposals on Muni fares and service and on the ability of MTA management to schedule and assign transit employees according to riders’ service needs. And employee unions representing transit employees would have to justify any proposal that would restrict the MTA’s flexibility in deciding schedules, staffing, assignments or the number of part-time time personnel.
  • Provide that past practices and "side letters" would not bind the City regarding terms of employment for MTA employees, unless the MTA Board or Director has approved them in writing and included them in the affected employees’ collective bargaining agreements.
  • patrick

    Sounds good to me, I’ll vote for it.

  • JohnB

    Me too, although personally I’d freeze their pay until the financial crisis is over and start work on cutting those unsustainable and unaffordable pension and healthcare benefits.

  • Will this allow for more part-time personnel? Or will only allow MTA more flexibility with the current levels of part-time staffing?

    I’ve said it before, but a union that doesn’t bargain is worthless. But I also don’t want to see the MTA use this as another way to cut costs without looking at revenue generating proposals. They are tasked with finding funding sources, not just declaring fiscal emergencies every year.

  • badlydrawnbear

    In general I would likely support the initiative. My real problem is, why is this even up to the voters??? Isn’t this why we have a representative government??? It seems that every little decision in this city is put on an initiative and voted on public, most of whom likely read the initiative for the first time at the ballot box and make a snap decision.

    What do the Supervisors do???

  • Joseph

    Would the incentive bonuses for management be based on data? (ie on-time performance, number of missed runs, keeping OT expenses as certain levels, etc.)

    If so, who determines when management would be deserving of a bonus? I want real incentives (and consequences for poor performance) on the management end.

  • andrew

    This is up to voters because it’s a Charter amendment. The voters approved the wage floor in 2007, and this is a move to reverse that (and fix some other things).

  • CE

    Finally we’ll have a chance to overturn this terrible city charter provision. It’s an issue of fairness for everyone in the city. What other group of workers has a guarantee of making the second-highest pay of their peers without any bargaining?

    There are some people arguing loudly that MUNI drivers are overpaid. That’s not what this is about. MUNI drivers should be paid a fair market wage. If that’s the wage they’re at now, then so be it, but that should be determined through negotiations.

  • badlydrawnbear, I think this has to go to the voters because the voters put this in the city charter to begin with. I agree with you though, no reason the uneducated public should be making these decisions.

    Also, Joseph, I really want to see some strict rules for management. They seem to continually get off. There are so many low hanging fruit that could be picked to make MUNI run faster that someone has to be held accountable for it not being implemented. But Nat just got picked up for another 4 yrs without even a slap on the wrist (unless you count his voluntary 2% pay cut one).

    Work orders should have been addressed. Parking meters should have been addressed. Stop IDs should have been addressed. Bus only lanes enforcement should have been addressed. Steady funding sources should have been addressed.

    Those issues are not just TWU’s to figure out, management has been absent from the scene for years.

  • Things with MUNI are certainly boiling. When someone has a bad situation on MUNI, most of the time you just suck it up, or maybe you get a bug in your ass and file a complaint on the MUNI site – perhaps even write your supervisor – at which point that complaint goes to /dev/null

    Well, I had a little incident on Monday. In addition to sending it to the MUNI website, I sent it to Dufty, Elsbernd, and Newsom.

    Within 24 hours, I had received emails from Dufty, MUNI COO Haley, TWU Chief Irwin Lum, and Elsbernd. I guess Newsom considers MUNI irrelevant in the context of the Lt Gov race.

    I’m sure the fact I craftily noted the upcoming ballot initiative didn’t hurt.

    http://holierthanyou.blogspot.com/2010/03/muni-twu-just-lost-my-vote.html

  • david vartanoff

    too bad the driver thought he needed to be so rude. Good luck, Mr. Lum,

  • Alex

    @mike Agreed. However, like a smart politician, Elsbernd kept the scope of this piece of legislation rather narrow in scope. It’s not a fix all the problems with MUNI bill, it’s a fix one specific problem. To that end it appears that mandatory bonuses for management have been nipped.

    However, perhaps one of the biggest problems, the inability to actually use part-time employees is not addressed by Elsbernd’s measure. As it stands, part-timers cannot fill in for sick full-time employees. To a large extent, I don’t think that the city should be in the business of legislating a labor contract. However, if a rider advocacy group like RescueMuni were to put something on the ballot that barred some of the most egregious provisions of the current TWU contract, I’d vote for it.

    @John That’s comical if only because drivers are instructed to not act as fare inspectors. Not only was he wrong about TransLink, he was wrong about how to go about his job.

    As for Lum’s assertions of ‘labor peace’… boy I guess he really must have a short memory if he forgot the ‘wildcat strike’ back in 2005, and the threat of one in 97 (and likely a few more if one were to go back forty years).

  • hUcKiE

    @John, Thanks for sharing your story and thanks for filing a complaint. I had a similar experience at the Castro Station. I was running late, and there couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 other people entering/exiting the station. My card double tapped, once green and then immediately red so I couldn’t get through the turnstile. So I walked over to the guy in the booth and explained what happened, and he got entirely belligerent with me, explaining that the behavior was for the prevention of fare evasion and obviously I was trying to evade the fare. I was like, look, there’s no one around that I’m with that could have passed me their card to use twice, but he just insisted that he wasn’t watching at the time and I must be up to something. He told me that if I really wasn’t trying to cheat the system, that shouldn’t have a problem walking to another station where my card would work again. I continued to argue with him until he finally let me into the station, but not before making some comment about hoping that the fare inspectors get me. Only, there were fare inspectors at the station where I got off, and my card registered just fine. Guess I should have filed a complaint!

  • @hUcKiE if he had a PoP reader it should have read valid… if I understand it right…

  • CBrinkman

    Although I don’t want the ballot measure to become a vote on Muni Driver behavior, it seems inevitable it will. I think we need Charm School for all drivers. I don’t ask for overflowing enthusiasm and a hug every time I get on the bus, but civility and professional behavior would be nice. Especially when it’s dark and I’m removing my bike from the front of the bus and would just like an acknowledgment of my presence so I know the driver won’t run me over.

    It has my vote too.

  • andrew

    The current charter provision is only three years old.

  • hUcKiE

    @John, the handheld reader that the fare inspector had when I got off the train did read the card correctly, but the station agents don’t have those devices. And, even if they did, the agent that I was talking to would probably not have believed the card reader, since according to him, my unseen friend tagged the card and handed it back to me so that we could get 2 fares for the price of one or something. So of course the card read valid.

    I actually don’t entirely blame the drivers on this issue. Muni is their own worst enemy. Back when their financial woes first hit, management blamed their woes on fare evaders, which got us, the public, mad at drivers for allow fare evasion to go on. I’m sure that there was a conversation somewhere that was had with drivers to crack down on fare evasion, and if you combine that climate with ZERO training on Translink and idiotic design decisions (such as this double-tap issue), then you can certainly understand why everyone is on edge. But when incidents like this are routinely happening, and everything Muni does is looking inept, then who can blame the public for trying to take drastic measures in the hope of bringing about some change.

  • Diane

    I believe that this change will now also allow drivers to strike, which the current provisions specifically prohibit, correct?

  • @Diane, correct.

  • Alex

    @hUcKiE Eh. Not allowing a double tap is hardly an idiotic design decision. It’s a legitimate way at combating fraud. Try using your paper FastPass in a BART or MUNI turnstile twice in a row. Station agents and drivers should be privy to the same information as you. They can see that the card is being denied because it’s already been authorized.

    In fact, pop cops might be able to see the same thing (of course they’d see yes, the card’s already been validated) when they go back through your transaction history. That is if the TL system keeps track of denied authorizations.

    FWIW, I’ve had a number of instances where the card has read already validated (e.x. walked out of the paid area to help a tourist at Powell) and not had any problem with the station agents. Likewise I’ve not had any drivers give me grief over any TL problems. It’s the luck of the draw as to whether or not you’ll get a competent driver or station agent.

  • david vartanoff

    @ Diane. Only if we are dumb enough not to prevent it. Seems to me, SF needs a separate charter provision mandating binding arbitration in the event of stalemate. The New York State “Taylor Law” does this for NYC Subway/Bus workers. The last time TWU 100 was dumb enough to strike despite the law they were fined AND denied dues checkoff. The leadership of the local has since been unelected by the rank and file.

  • Not allowing a double tap is hardly an idiotic design decision. It’s a legitimate way at combating fraud.

    Having turnstiles (= $$$$$ for Cubic) and on-vehicle pass readers (= $$$$$$ for Cubic and ERG and Very Very Very Very Special Friends of MTC) is what is idiotic.

    POP means no gates, free flow, board any door, and let the fare inspectors sort things out. Drivers drive. Passengers load and unload themselves without interference. It really isn’t rocket science!

    TransLink(tm), in complete contrast, means gates, barriers, nose bleed expensive separate mezzanine levels and paid and unpaid areas, constricted entry, slow buses, painful transfers, constant operator-passenger disputes, and, most importantly massive profits and blank checks for the unethical sleazebag snake oil vendors who buy off agency staff and electeds.

  • Alex

    You’re absolutely right Dick. POP means ticket vending machines on the streets from altruistic vendors. It means roping in retailers who won’t want a commission. lol.

  • Mission Mom

    @Diane. Charter Section A8.346 prohibits strikes by municipal employees, and authorizes dismissal of employees who violate that prohibition. In addition, the proposed ballot measure also makes clear in its findings that the intent is to ensure that MTA workers cannot strike, because the purpose is to make them subject to a collective bargaining process that “is fair to both the public and employees, and bars strikes by public employees.”

  • Belgand

    Unless I’m mistaken the wage floor was also set as part of the last big “fix MUNI” bill that combined a ton of different things into one package. So yeah, while I thought the operator salary part was ridiculously high I also, naively, had hopes that the rest of the bill might help. Having this as one focused bill is exactly the sort of thing we need so we don’t keep getting into these sorts of problems.

    My biggest hope is that the city government will finally use bargaining to actually take the unions to task and cut tough deals rather than simply roll over and give them whatever they want. While it’s unpleasant I’d much rather weather a strike than continue to be extorted. Pay, for all levels of employees, needs to start being linked to performance.

  • This is another example of why ballot initiatives are overused and abused in California. This should never have been decided by voters in the first place!

  • Kingacclaim

    $30 an hour for someone who does a physically and mentally demanding job and is responsible for dozens of lives, and must maintain a clean driving record and clean drug tests, is not an unreasonable rate of pay. It works out to about $62,000 a year. The average salary in SF is $88,000. Honestly, who do you want driving that 20 ton box of people rolling through crowded city streets?

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