An open letter to the Transit Workers Union

If the Transit Workers Union is willing to give on just the overtime and part-time driver rules, SFMTA would save $12.4 million in next year's budget
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By Gabriel Metcalf

OPINION Last week, the Transit Workers Union refused to accept a deal with San Francisco that would have modestly reduced major service cuts and eliminated another increase in discount fares at least for this year. The proposal would have involved two things: first, a one-time contribution by drivers to their own pension plans (worth $8.9 million for next year, almost precisely cancelled by the automatic raise of $8 million the drivers will receive next year); and second, a change in work rules that would have required drivers to actually work 40 hours in a week before earning overtime, which would have saved $3.8 million over the next 14 months.

Muni is facing a deficit of at least $17 million in the current fiscal year and around $55 million next year. Future years will be worse. Given these pressures, the TWU is getting ready to re-vote. I presume that, eventually, union members will accept the deal. But either way, given how utterly marginal this deal is for the riders, progressives need to begin a public conversation about what responsibility the union has for making Muni work better.

The problem is not that TWU salaries are too high. The problem is the work rules. These include: drivers not having to let their managers know how long they will be absent from work, making it impossible to set schedules; drivers earning overtime pay before actually working 40 hours a week; and perhaps most significantly, a set of rules that makes it virtually impossible to hire part time drivers. Currently, Muni is forced by the work rules to pay drivers at full hourly rates to sit around between the morning and afternoon peaks. That rule costs MTA about $11 million each year.

If the TWU is willing to give on just the overtime and part-time driver rules, MTA would save $12.4 million in next year's budget — and this savings would grow in the future. Other work rule changes could save much, much more, while dramatically increasing service to riders.

Probably the underlying cause of Muni's work rules is the fact that the TWU, unlike other bargaining units in the city, has its salary and benefits set by formula in the City Charter — which means that management has nothing to offer during labor negotiations. Friends of mine in the labor movement argue that TWU is just doing its job in trying to get a good deal for members. I would argue that TWU needs to do more than that, and needs to begin taking responsibility for building a transit system that works well and can grow over time.

Maybe this public sector union needs to take a page from the Swedish labor movement.

Early into the post World War II economic boom, the Swedish unions learned that, since they controlled the government and increasingly controlled the boards of directors of the corporations they had organized, they were essentially always going to get their major demands met. This forced a big shift in their culture, causing them to have to take responsibility not just for cutting a good deal for their members, but for ensuring the profitability of the companies. Labor could easily "win too much" and drive the companies out of business, thereby returning its members to unemployment. Once labor controlled the businesses, it had to come up with a proactive agenda for how to run them successfully.

Closer to home, we've seen the teachers union accept cuts and changes to their equivalent of work rules in order to prevent teacher layoffs. And we've seen the Service Employees International Union at the national level put immense resources into passing health care reform — something that will benefit all Americans, not just SEIU members.

Something similar needs to happen now at Muni.

Comments

we've heard this canard that muni drivers "can collect overtime before working 40 hours" and you probably think, "that's horrible"... but no one has explained the circumstances - and for good reason... the california labor code specifies that you receive overtime after working 40 hours in a week OR after working eight hours in a day... muni generally schedules ten hour shifts, in order to get by with two workforce rotations a day (instead of three - they can do so because most of the system does not operate for the four late night/early morning hours)... that's all well and good, but now spur is suggesting/demanding that transit workers voluntarily give up their legal right under the labor code... get it?... this isn't some "sweet deal" that drivers negotiated - it's the law... as for hiring "part time workers". that could perhaps be negotiated, but would management try then to gradually ease ALL drivers into part time status (which usually comes without health benefits)?... imagine a system where all you were offered was three ten hour shifts per week with no healthcare... lastly, all this talking about the san francisco charter mandating that muni drivers receive an average of the salaries of the top two transit districts... well DUH - last time i looked, san francisco was the SECOND most expensive city in the united states to live in (and you are NOT living like a prince on $60,000 annually)... and WHY is that provision IN the charter?... because drivers gave up the right to strike for a guaranteed salary increase (ASSUMING that other top districts ALSO go up in wages - NOT a given in today's economic climate)... contributing to your own pension?... THAT'S an idea that has some merit... giving up your protections under the labor code and the protection you exchanged for giving up your right to strike?... THAT'S just union busting... public transit will NEVER be self sufficient economically, but there are PLENTY of things that good management can do to reduce the burden (other than just "blame the drivers - blame the union")... maybe the guy they hired yesterday for $200,000+ will have some ideas to justify a salary that yes, IS an excellent paying job, EVEN in san francisco... wish

Posted by Guest wishyouweredead on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 1:16 am

Hmmm . . . according to Metcalf, the solution to Muni's problems lies in empowering the transit workers union even more. Because, if the transit workers realized they were running this "company", they would limit their own wages and benefits, so that the "company" would grow . . . like unions have done for companies in Sweden. (????)

The analogy to Swedish companies is false. Why? Because private companies anywhere have to make a profit. But public departments like transit do not have deliver better service at a better price in order to stay in business or grow. The transit workers have no incentive to deliver better service now, and they will have no incentive to do so in the future, unless we uncouple them from their union.

I say, bust that union. There are several ways to do this. It would be politically very difficult to do so in a face-down. But it doesn't have to be done in that way. Just stop resisting MUNI and deflect its force instead.

One of the most potent wyas to do so would be to introduce and subsidize alternate forms of transportation -- bicycles, electric bicycles, scooters, carpools, ride-sharing, walking, private jitneys, shared cabs, etc. The sooner we can spread out how we all get around town in non-noxious ways, the sooner we can dispense with one bus and rail system trying to meet the diverse needs of all. We don't have to turn into a city of private automobiles and congestion. But we do need to turn away from mass transit in buses as the answer. And that means getting rid of a dysfunctional union at the same time. Cool.

Posted by Guest icarus12 on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 9:50 am

That's not green at all to turn away from mass transit. In most great cities from Asia to Europe, the beauty of living in those cities is their mass transits. Or to remain close to home, didn't you visit Washington D.C.? The metro in D.C. puts San Francisco to shame. It is a beauty in itself, efficient, clean, reliable. If we do what you propose we will have a more congested city, chocked with cars. We must put these utopias to rest start right now building more tunnels and more routes, change our circulation laws to favor mass transit before its catastrophically too late when oil will become less affordable. This will require billions and billions of dollars. Paris just consecrated over 45 billions to revamp its already supreme mass transit, they will start work in 2012, London just put more than 18 billions to add just one more rail! That the way to go alas we squandered Stimulus money on futility while Mass Transit got peanuts.
About the Unions I would like to add that everywhere Mass Transit is efficient UNIONS are behind it, you cant have a good working force that will make a city a world class city delivering a fluid mass transit without solid benefits, solid pays, solid dignities.
Nafiss Griffis

Posted by nafiss on Feb. 27, 2010 @ 9:36 am

"Guest wishyouweredead" comments about overtime are not actually true. The proposed rules do not go against any labor laws. Instead, they would prevent drivers from gaming the system. For example, currently a driver can be absent for a couple of days and then take on extra shifts at an overtime rate. They work fewer than 40 hours a week yet get overtime pay! Not only does this greatly increase the costs of drivers but it also motivates drivers to be absent for their regular shifts which of course causes missed runs.

And then there are certain holidays like Martin Luther Kind day where things are really out of hand. It is not an official holiday and the city runs regular service. So far so good. But the drivers forced Muni to make it Saturday service (so they get overtime) but then backfilled with additional runs so that there is actually regular weekday service. So the drivers get overtime even though it is regular service!

Posted by Michael Smith on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 10:09 am

well, michael, since no one is saying what they mean by "collecting overtime without working 40 hours' and since most muni shifts are 10 hours, and since the labor code specifies that you get overtime after 8 hours (in a day - whether you have 40 hours accumulated or not), you can see why i made that assumption... if you know for a fact that they are referring to something else, ok... i'm guessing you mean that they work a couple of days, miss a couple, take sick pay for those days (and that their contract allows hours COLLECTED for as "sick days" to be COUNTED as "hours worked") and then return to work making overtime... while that may be gaming the system, it would seem like there is a very limited amount of times that any driver could do that (because sick days are limited)... negotiating a change in that work rule would seem like something that will get done in this round of negotiations... i do NOT see where it ENCOURAGES drivers to be absent though, since, if they WERE at work for the first four days and then began collecting overtime (same as if they worked two, missed two, then came back) they would still get the overtime and later (i am assuming) get a separate check for unused sick days... if you have some specific information that USING sick days is more financially advantageous than BANKING (and collecting later) sick days, by all means, share it with us... people are going to miss work if they have to miss work, but in my experience, any time you can bank sick days and collect on them later (when you are earning a higher hourly wage), that always makes more financial sense...

and how did the drivers "force" muni management to make mlk day "saturday service"? - wish

Posted by Guest wishyouweredead on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 11:33 am

Where do you get your information? There are so many homemade facts about transit Operators it boggles the mind. Guest wishyouweredead is right on. You are exaggerating. If an Operator has at least 8 hours of sick time in the bank he can call in sick, (paying for his day off out of his own accured bank of sick time), and still qualify to work overtime during the weekend. If he does not have sufficient hours to cover his time off he WILL NOT be paid overtime. Most Operators are scheduled to work on national holidays. If an Operator is scheduled to work on a national holiday (when most folks have the day off) he recieves his regular pay plus eight hours for the holiday. And so do police and fire department employees.

Posted by Will Johnson on Mar. 13, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

I've seen a post by a muni operator that says they get as much as 40 sick days a year (10 days per quarter). Since there are about 250 working days a year, that works out to 16%, which is just about the same as the Muni operator absenteeism.

If an operator is scheduled to work monday through thursday, but claim sick days on wed & thurs, and then come in on saturday & sunday they get overtime for all the hours worked sat & sun, plus the 4 hours for working 10 hour shifts on monday & tuesday, so for 40 hours worked, they get 24 of those hours treated as overtime.

It is clearly better to take a sick day and then get paid for overtime for filling other shifts.

Operators are also not required to call in to inform their manager that they are taking a sick day, making it impossible for management to plan for outages.

Lastly, the operators are only coming off as jerks. If they reject these changes, they will lose the charter pay set at 2nd highest at the ballot, and will also lose those work rules once the next contract negotiation comes up.

At this point, there is almost nobody in this city who supports the operators and the only way for them to regain some support is to agree to these concessions.

Posted by patrick on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

in most jobs, you get a sick day for every X days worked (usually between 16-20)... so, 40 seems like a stretch... the contract is online and a quick perusal did not say anything about the number of sick days... but the last two paragraphs suggest that if drivers are abusing sick time that managers certainly could be (contractually) doing something about it (subject to the limitations of this act - which i am not familiar with):

188.
The SFMTA may investigate suspected abuse of sick leave and may bring charges against any employee who willfully abuses the sick leave rules. Particular attention will be paid to patterns of absence.
189.
Additional sick leave procedures may be promulgated by the Department after complying with the meet and confer requirements of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.

and the sick pay section begins with what on paper are some pretty stringent requirements (again, if not enforced, that's on management):

185.
If an employee will not be at work on his/her regularly scheduled day, he/she must notify his/her supervisor not later than fifteen (15) minutes before the start of his/her shift. If her/his supervisor is not available, then the employee should call the contact person designated by the supervisor within the unit. Only in the event that the employee is unable to reach the supervisor and the unit contact person should (s)he call the Department’s designated secondary contact. All time actually worked by each employee shall be maintained on the Time Report.

Posted by Guest wishyouweredead on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

I stand corrected regarding no requirement to call in, but 15 minutes notice is as useful as no notice as far as managing bus routes goes.

40 Days is certainly excessive, I can't find any official numbers, but I've seen a couple sources that support that number. But even if it's only 10 days, or 5 days, it's still unacceptable that those hours should apply towards qualifying for overtime.

Here's some annecdotal numbers on absenteeism:

May 1, Friday
Scheduled operators 1,632
Sick 132
Unplanned leave 112
Total unavailable 359 (22%)

May 4, Monday
(Day with highest “unplanned leave” cases)
Scheduled operators 1,632
Sick 130
Unplanned leave 113
Total unavailable 361 (22%)

May 8, Friday
Scheduled operators 1,647
Sick 125
Unplanned leave 110
Total unavailable 343 (21%)

May 11, Monday
(Day with most sick-day cases)
Scheduled operators 1,648
Sick 143
Unplanned leave 108
Total unavailable 347 (21%)

May 18, Monday
Scheduled operators 1,653
Sick 140
Unplanned leave 100
Total unavailable 357 (21%)

I've read that Mondays and Fridays are the highest absentee days (which indicates that at least some people are abusing the system) so I'm sure the average is lower, but even 15% absenteeism is way over what should be acceptable.

If this absenteeism is enshrined in the union contract, then the operators are not necessarily abusing the system, but the contract itself is abusive towards the riders of muni, and is exactly why people are so angry at the operators.

Finally, in no way should my posts regarding the operator situation be taken as support for muni management. I feel management is at least as responsible as the operators union, but that does not let the operators off the hook for voting against changes to the work rules in the union contract.

Posted by patrick on Feb. 25, 2010 @ 10:57 am

The agency say's they have a 455 million dollar budget and 128 million dollar short fall,well did you know the cost to pay for operations after doing the math with numbers the agency gave to the media to pay for operations that includes everything about operators the total comes to 190 million,stay with me now the agency say's that the budget is 455 million plus the short fall of 128 million,I'm not a math teacher but the operating budget for operations is 190 million and there's a 700 million dollar budget overall can somebody please ask Mr Ford where is the 500 million going to be spent.This is interesting that of all the talk about the hardworking operators is keeping the public distracted from looking at the real numbers once again there's a 700 million dollar budget and agency has tricked the public in to a debate on operators pay,wow someone please look up and see through the agency's tricks.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

Even if muni was operating under budget, the work rules would still be unacceptable.

Posted by patrick on Feb. 25, 2010 @ 10:59 am

Am I reading the San Francisco Examiner or the Bay Guardian? It is irresponsible of the Guardian to give its pages to the pen of an Anti-Union establishment, SPUR par excellence. The first paragraph by Mr. Garbriel Metcalf, in his open letter, is so concentrated in propagandist misinformation that its intent is to pit people against the ranks and file of MUNI. If SPUR is such an intelligentsia organization why doesn't Mr. Metcalf give some figures? Why not mention that the city of Paris spends on its public transit more than the whole U.S.? Did Mr. Metcalf read the new budget for 2011 by Obama? Why does the Pentagon gets 738 billion dollars while Mass Transit gets 8.36 dollars? How about the highways, they get 44 billion dollars? Also Mr. Metcalf keeps talking about the worst economic crisis without saying that it was not the making of the working class. It was manufactured by these big corporations especially in the banking system. Then while punishing the guys who are responsible for the mayhem we rewarded them instead with more than a trillion dollars of the working classes tax money. It is an affront to attack the weak while bow to the powerful. The Bay Guradian should guard against such unintended consequences.
Nafiss Griffis

Posted by nafiss on Feb. 27, 2010 @ 9:18 am

I don't always agree with Gabriel Metcalf -- in fact, most of the time we strongly disagree -- but I think it's fair for a progressive newspaper now and then to give Gabriel (who is not a downtown troglodyte and has some intelligent ideas) to present a case to our progressive readers. I'm glad he's stirred up all this debate, which is useful to everyone.

Thanks to all who have added information here.

The Guardian's outside opinion pieces overwhelmingly reflect the views of progressive community activists and leaders, and this will continue to be the case. But I like to mix it up every now and then with some comments from someone who doesn't agree with us.

Posted by tim on Feb. 28, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

it's the damn union thats killing the city Mayoral candidate Harold Miller is a Teamster and he still sees how the muni union is choking the city...

Posted by HAROLD MILLER 4 SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR 2011 on Mar. 03, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

festivus, 4 Harold Miller to become San Francisco's next MAYOR.. (www.haroldmiller4mayor.com)

Posted by http://www.haroldmiller4mayor.com on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 11:39 am

Assuming the earlier comments explaining the overtime issues are correct, there seems to be a simple solution. Don't pay overtime for a long day if the employee volunteered for the long day and the employee missed a shift some other day of the same week. That eliminates the gaming, while maintaining standard CA labor laws.

Posted by FoggyEthan on Apr. 03, 2010 @ 11:09 am

I will increase the advertising by 80% and the money will pay for the lowering of the bus fares from $2.25 back down to .50cents, so how you like me now San Francisco?

Posted by Guesthttp://www.haroldmiller4mayor.com/directory on Sep. 21, 2010 @ 12:51 am

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Posted by http://www.haroldmiller4mayor.com on Dec. 23, 2010 @ 11:37 am