Common Ground and Key Differences in Two Muni Operator Pay Measures

IMG_1801.jpgSPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf gathers signatures for Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s ballot measure. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Depending on how you count it, the sweeping Muni ballot measure that four members of the Board of Supervisors introduced earlier this week has at least six major components, ranging from the governance of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to how Muni operator wages are set.

That last piece is similar — not identical — to a measure that Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association (SPUR) already hope to put on the ballot, and those key details are splitting the sponsors of the rival measures.

At the heart of Elsbernd’s ballot measure and the corresponding piece of the separate ballot measure introduced this week is a change to the way Muni operator salaries are set. For now, the city charter requires their salaries and benefits to be set through a "salary survey" of the nation’s other transit agencies "in comparable jurisdictions," with Muni operators getting paid the average of the "two highest wage schedules for transit operators."

Both Elsbernd’s measure and the new measure would do away with that practice, instead setting the salaries through a collective bargaining process — much the same as nearly any other city employee union.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi included that provision in their ballot measure despite initial wariness of Elsbernd’s measure, since it would give SFMTA management leverage to renegotiate operator work rules that a recent audit found are costly and create problems for Muni service.

Both measures would also eliminate the transit operator trust fund and any city payments into it, and would make incentive bonuses for the SFMTA Director and "service critical" managers and employees optional instead of required. (Elsbernd and the Muni operators union sparred over the trust fund in February.)

Elsbernd praised the measure for eliminating the salary survey, but said it doesn’t do enough to address the current agreements that are in place. "The simple way to say it is that our measure not only eliminates the salary survey but it also presses the reset button on the MOU" — the memorandum of understanding between the SFMTA and the operators. "They don’t come anywhere near that."

"Our measure sunsets and eliminates all previous side letters that have been agreed to," Elsbernd continued. "We have the Harvey Rose audit from a week ago that demonstrates that the side letters have cost us millions of dollars over the years."

Elsbernd’s amendment, which he’s still gathering signatures for to place on the November ballot, also includes specific terms of binding arbitration, if the operators and management need to enter into it. It would require arbitrators to consider the impact of disputed proposals on Muni fares and services, and on the ability of SFMTA management to schedule operators according to service needs.

More contentiously, it would require the operators union "to justify any proposal that would restrict the MTA’s flexibility in deciding schedules, staffing, assignments or the number of part-time personnel," according to the City Attorney’s Office’s summary of the measure.

Some supporters of the opposing measure have called that requirement an unnecessary and unfair burden on the operators, as well as questioning whether it could be enforced. Elsbernd and SPUR say the measure strives to be a squeaky-clean, airtight good government measure. Either way, that provision is one of the major fault lines.

One other major difference between the measures is that while Esbernd’s is finalized, the competing, much broader measure put forward by President Chiu and his colleagues still has over a month of debate and discussion ahead over its final details.

One party that didn’t weigh in is the SFMTA itself, which has instructions from the City Attorney’s Office not to discuss ballot measures that could affect it. While it’s hard to imagine the agency wouldn’t welcome the $40 million cash infusion the more sweeping amendment would offer, the agency’s opinion on whether one measure or the other better addresses the work rules issue will remain under wraps.

  • rich415

    this is an attack by all white people on a minority union, they dont go after the police department, and they will not go after the fire department, muni is the only transit agency in the usa to drive 4 diffrent modes of transportation, buses , trains, trolleys, and cablecars, they carry 2.5 million riders a year, santa clara valley transit carries 1/3 of the people has a worse on time peformance than muni but is paid better. only newyork city carries more people, the operators are prepared to go to the negotiation tables and even if the arbitraitors side with management the operators will go on strike if there not the highest paid. all that crap there no money but the supervisors can come up with 40 million dollars if they can have more say over muni, was all the operators wanted to hear,fix muni petition is your concessions.

  • Manish

    Rich…the measure was put on by Supervisors Mirkarimi, Chiu, Mar and Campos. What do these 4 have in common? None of them are white. Nice try though.

  • Alex

    Woosh. Wow. Chiu, Campos, Mar, and Mirkarimi really don’t get it, do they? The current MOU restricts the ability of the MTA to implement scheduling changes that would benefit riders greatly.

    1.) Dynamic assignment of outbound trains. I got to wait the better part of thirty minutes at West Portal for an outbound L (which turned around promptly at 22nd Ave). Other people stuck there were waiting for over an hour. The current MOU affords drivers a premium for a reassignment *and* the ability to decline a reassignment.

    2.) Part-time workers and split-shifts are *huge*. Currently only full-time workers can fill in for other missing full-time workers. Combine that with the ability to rack up overtime after calling in sick, and the caps on part-time workers… and all of a sudden when the MTA moans about how much express service costs… it makes sense.

    3.) A $40 million cash grab from the general fund? That’s their fix? Oh FFS. The MTA needs additional, sustainable funding.

    At the end of the day neither Chiu, Campos, Mar, nor Mirkarimi are proposing any actual reforms. Come on guys, you can do better.

  • Will Johnson

    I still don’t understand how some people believe that Muni will be “fixed” if the drivers work rules are changed and overtime pay is reduced.

    The City auditor Harvey Rose has suggested that $3 million could be saved with such changes. Big deal!

    What about the rest of the swollen $768 million MTA (slush fund) budget?

    What about the yet to be adequately explained $67 million of “work order” distributions to other City departments?

    Regarding the current economic downturn, doesn’t it make more sense to consider temporarily discontinuing multi-million dollar, non-service critical expenditures for such things as “next bus”, the on board Muni vehicle camera system and “311”?

    Should we really be cutting passenger service by 10% in order to maintain these?

    Its obvious that the directors of the MTA have an insatiable appetite for additional funding.

    Since its inception in 1999 the MTA has not come close to fulfilling the promises mandated by prop. E,(not to mention prop. A).

    To begin with, voters were promised an adequate source of dedicated funding.

    Instead, the MTA has created a huge transportation fund in which every year tens of millions of dollars go in and disappear!

    As for the promise of 85% on time service, we now have an unprecedented 10% City wide service cut!

    There are two groups of people that will never stop driver bashing: 1) The incurable malcontents stuck on stupid. 2) Those who are working for the corporate business community and bash drivers to create a diversion from the fact that the MTA is working to permanently downsize Muni and shift more and more of its operating cost’s onto the backs of riders.

    And finally, here’s a reality check regarding work rule changes: Seniority rights are inherently non-negotiable! Whether TWU Local 250A winds up going to collective bargaining or not, the union will never approve work rule changes that adversely effect seniority rights, the health and safety of drivers, or the necessary pay and benefits they are entitled to receive!

  • Alex

    @Will After reading your suggestions of getting rid of GPS vehicle tracking, on-board security systems, and customer service, it’s pretty apparent you’re merely a shill for the TWU. But here’s a more in-depth explanation of how the TWU hurts riders.

    It’s not just about current expenditures. Look at how routes are assigned right now. As-is drivers get a schedule, and they have the ability to veto any proposed changes. If drivers accept a proposed change, they get a premium for it.

    So, with that in mind, look at outbound trains on an evening rush passing through Montgomery station. Maybe over the course of an hour you see something like N N N K N N J N K M N N L K K N. In a more reasonable world, someone would have the ability to reroute some of the Ns into other lines that could use service more than once or twice an hour. In practice, that ain’t going to happen because it would merely be a suggestion. Thus, service suffers because the TWU is looking out for their “interests” and theirs alone.

    Or, how about express service? Express service is typically only done during AM and PM rush hour. The way things stand now, the MTA would have to pay a full day for someone who’s only going to be needed in the morning (or evening). This isn’t reflected in the budget because the MTA is simply unwilling to expand express service if it’s going to saddle them with paying for a bunch of drivers who will be unneeded for most of the day. This kind of expenditure isn’t factored into said audit.

    Let’s dig deeper into the part-time restrictions, shall we? Part-time drivers cannot fill in for sick full-time drivers. Thus replacing “sick” full-time drivers will run a much higher chance of the MTA incurring overtime pay than they otherwise should. The service missed because the MTA cannot afford to staff replacements is also not covered by the $3 million savings. If you’ve spent any time at all riding the system over the past few months, you’ve experienced what can happen when the MTA can no longer afford to fill missing runs: de-facto service cuts. Before someone yells “BUT THE MTA DOES NOT USE PART TIME DRIVERS”, think about this: would you bother employing part-time drivers if you were contractually obligated from using them where they’d be most beneficial?

    Also noted in the audit:

    “For instance, the report notes, Muni does poorly when it comes to avoiding downtime in operators’ schedules, when they’re not actually operating a vehicle. The ratio of paid hours to driving hours for Muni operators compares poorly to other transit agencies…”

    “…King County (Washington) Metro Transit staff, their agency’s ratio of paid hours to driving hours of only 1.11 compared to Muni’s ratio of 1.23”

    So. Look. You guys over at the TWU can keep arguing in favor of maintaining the unsustainable status quo. It’s a strategy that’s worked out very well for the UAW and CAW. That’s fine. However, at the end of the day, the status quo, and thus your actions, directly hurt the riders of San Francisco. That’s not fine. That’s not okay. The bevy of groups trying to fix the MTA are merely representative of that.

    And, lastly, yuck. It was bad enough to see the TWU argue against any formal transit planning, telecommunication (gosh, drivers that want radios? that’s nuts!), against free transfers. But, really, you want to argue against having any sort of customer service at all? Really? You do realize that 311 provides 24×7 service for MUNI riders, right? You do realize that before that, MUNI employed its own customer service folks directly? So, getting rid of 311, that’s your solution? Where’s the cost savings? Is it in just ignoring rider complaints, concerns, and questions? That, my friend, is prima facie evidence of how anti-rider the TWU and its members really are.

  • I hope SPUR might also encourage folks to help Public Defender Jeff Adachi with gathering signatures for his pension reform effort – a good government initiative that would take on a major cause of our future deficits (promises made by politicians of yesteryear that result in teacher layoffs and other cuts in services and fee increases today). The website is if you’d like to help gather signatures ….

  • Ajay

    @Will : your sense of entitlement seems to have blinded you to the most obvious question: Why should the MUNI employees be treated any different than any other employees? There is 12% unemployment in California (and a similar rate in SF); the taxpayers are suffering; the property values are going down; the economy is in the dumpster, and yet the MUNI employees’ sense of entitlement shows no sign of changing.

    Time to wake up and smell the coffee. The taxpayers are sick of supporting these people who care for no-one but themselves. In the private sector, they would have been fired by now. But in the public sector, we have to kneel before them?

  • marcos

    This sounds great, the magic of the marketplace has proven itself such an able arbiter of equitable distribution that we should throw our future onto the bonfire of the Chicago School, inviting the IMF into San Francisco to impose austerity, because our only problem is that our belt is not tight enough.

    The cost of a half-time operator is > .5 times the cost of a full time operator. Most savings will be consumed by the non-salary portions of the FTE.

    The neo-Hooverians posting here are clueless about the role of government in sustaining the semblance of demand through public spending during an economic contraction such as we are in the midst of right now. The notion that wages should fall by public sector contraction masquerading as “fiscal responsibility” is what is consuming Europe’s economy right now.

    There is enough surplus in the economy even during a contraction to pay workers well, both in the public and private sector as well as to fund transit sufficiently. But the Chicago School economic religion would have everyone toiling under increasingly harsh conditions to keep the rentiers and banksters comfortable. Libertarian capitalism is a religious belief, and the high priests of the marketplace are the ones whose spiritual advice led us into the economic ditch. Face it, Alan Greenspan was to libertarian capitalism what Josef Stalin was to communism, one fully empowered to work his will who has been rendered a failure by eventualities. Latter day libertarian capitalists remind me of “new leftists” from the 1960s, they who believed that Stalin did not do socialism correctly, and that if we just hewed closer to Marx and Lenin, we could get right what Stalin blew. Thus, we see Sean Elsbernd imitating Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin, teabaggers all, in calling for purer Greenspanism.

    The question should be not so much why Muni employees have a better deal than most working San Franciscans, rather why most working San Franciscans have such a crappy deal when compared to Muni employees?

    Adachi’s pension amendment would save like $500m over 25 or so years, an average of $25m/year out of a > $6b budget. Given the gifts to politically connected interests from the public till that do not produce greater good that dwarf that sum, $25m to provide retirement security, most all of which goes directly into the economy as consumption, is not a bad deal for the City, for taxpayers or for retirees. It is a bad deal for the already wealthy, for corporate interests, who would shift all costs onto others as if there were some free lunch somewhere standing between us and seniors eating pet food.

    Retirement security and access to health care are not luxuries, nor is reliable rapid transit. Those who would posit those as luxuries are party to the interests who have immolated the American productive economy on the altar of FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), yet who expect (correectly, as it turns out) to get bailed out whenever the lifetstyle to which they’ve grown accustomed is impinged.

    A quick show of hands: Who here wants to compete in the labor market until they are 75?

    Who here wants to hitch their retirement security on the Wall Street casino?


  • I believe you should research Adachi’s proposal a bit more. It does not affect the benefits promised to existing employees … it does ask employees to contribute towards those benefits something above 0%. Over the long-term, this means fewer service cuts, fee increases, and job cuts in the public sector.

    City College is closed for the summer … the baby boomer generation is doing its best to create a generation of criminals because a good education for our children is being sacrificed and public transit turned into a joke. It is all related …. how about some efforts to balance fairness?

    It will be a sad, sad year watching various interests collude and stab others in the back as they recognize the money just isn’t there …. and the kids, because they cannot vote, always get the short end of the stick.

  • marcos

    There is plenty of money in the economy to pay for retirement and health care, however it remains politically impounded. For example, eliminating the wage cap for the social security payroll tax would make the system solvent. Switching to a four day work week would result in full employment and wage stability.

    The lessons we need to learn from our current predicament is that high octane perpetual growth capitalism is not sustainable internally or externally, not that we need to call in the IMF for austerity and. Structural adjustment.

    Progressives need to be putting forth comprehensive progressive solutions to these structural problems, not riffing off of selfish conservative free marketeers like Peterson and Zuckerman.

    The boomers got a leg up from their parents who defeated fascism in four and one half years, came home to pay 70% marginal tax rates, and have completely squandered it in a cynical paroxysm of greed.

    The contortions required to maintain fast growth industrial capitalism are simply too much for the economy and environment to bear.


  • Ajay

    @marcos: Spoken like a person who’s feasting at the public trough. Your posts are so dripping with entitlement that I don’t even know where to start.

    FYI: the economies of Europe are in deep sh1t BECAUSE of public-sector entitlements. Instead of blindingly spewing a completely illogical statement, do some research. Greece had a retirement age of 53 for public sector employees, after which they would retire with a fat pension. Maybe I shouldn’t be mentioning it here, as that will give people like you ideas.

    >> “There is enough surplus in the economy even during a contraction to pay workers well, both in the public and private sector as well as to fund transit sufficiently.”…

    LOL. Tell that to the people who are unemployed, and yet have to pay higher and higher taxes because of the bloated payrolls and stratospheric entitlements that public sector employees keep demanding.

    >> “$25m to provide retirement security, most all of which goes directly into the economy as consumption, is not a bad deal for the City,.. ”

    But why? Why should the taxpayer pay even 1 cent extra?? It’s like you people think you have a right to just reach into the taxpayers’ wallets and take whatever you want. What about MY retirement security? I’m pretty sure I won’t have Social Security by the time I retire; how about we take YOUR frigging retirement security and give it to me?

  • marcos

    The economies of Europe are in okay shape, structurally. The fiscal position of the PIIGS states are in crisis because there is currency union amidst no fiscal union and that forces the stronger economies to adsorb the fiscal slack of the weaker economies because it is impossible to devalue the Green euro to move back towards stasis. Functioning as designed.

    The German banks had no problem lending to PIIGS in the run up to this and are now insisting upon bail out and austerity in order to save their balance sheets. I don’t think so, and I don’t believe that the Europeans will stand for that. In the US, citizens fear the government. In much of Europe, the government fears the citizens.

    The economies of Europe and the US are in deep sh1t for precisely the same reasons: because late mature capitalism cannot produce the level of returns to address the needs of a growing population. Europe has more of a safety net that is tempting to cut than the US does, and there is a coordinated media campaign on the part of the big banks to vacuum up what little safety net remains so that their profits don’t take a hit.

    We are supposed to live in a democracy that regulates capitalism. It is time for us to take advantage of that and to regulate capitalism so that it provides for the needs of most people instead of stoking the FIRE sector which had offered up 30-40% ROI as opposed to 8% on traditional industrial investment.

    Perhaps the notion of a Hobbesian existence appeals to some. Perhaps they’d be more comfortable in Somalia?

    The reason why Muni is not working has nothing to do with retirement benefits any more than the scheduled lunch hour for bank tellers has anything to do with the financial crash.

    The boomer generation was raised in a climate of 70% marginal tax rates which set the stage for the greatest accomplishments of the post war era. Their selfishness and racism is what led to the Reaganist retrenchment. That supply side economics, now discredited, cannot serve as a guide for undoing the mess it created.

    High or higher taxes, as Clinton proved, does not necessarily contradict wage, price and employment stability, rather, it pinches profits at the high end of the economy. In a democracy, the minority needs to be prepared to lose.

    The era of selfish libertarians is over.


  • marcos

    BTW: I’ve worked in the public and private sector over the past 30 years and pay property taxes on my share of our SF home.

    The only slackers involved here are the rentiers and banksters who believe that they should be able to undercapitalize their leveraged casino derivative swaps to speculate on whole nations’ economies, driving them to the brink of bankruptcy and their populations into squalor.

    This all ends with working folks sacrificing so that the super rich can continue to make as much more money as they have come to expect, being unsatisfied with just making money.



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