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Driver salaries fueling deficit

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As The City’s mass transit commuters are being threatened with another round of fare increases and service reductions, Muni’s operators are raking in thousands of dollars in overtime — even as they are guaranteed by city law to have the second-highest wages in the nation.

The average base pay for a Muni operator — those who drive buses, cable cars and light-rail vehicles — is roughly $60,000, which is determined by a City Charter mandate that says they must be among the top paid in the country.

And Muni’s 2,350 operators are almost guaranteed a bevy of overtime pay. In calendar year 2009, 622 Muni operators raked in more than $80,000 in total pay, including 82 who brought home more than $100,000.

More than 400 operators were paid overtime in excess of $20,000. One operator earned as much as $78,722 in overtime and brought home a total of $146,498 in pay last year. Seventeen operators earned more than $51,000 in overtime, contributing to more than $100,000 in take-home pay for the year, according to data obtained from the city controller.

In addition to wages, The City pays employees’ pension contribution, which is 7.5 percent of wages. This fiscal year, it will cost $8.8 million, according to the City Controller’s Office. In fiscal year 2008-09, the transit agency spent $41.3 million on operators’ total fringe benefits, including retirement, Social Security, health and dental.

Last week, the majority of Muni operators rejected a number of labor concessions — including an overtime giveback — that would have saved the transit agency $15 million in operating expenses during the next two fiscal years. Muni officials have said the labor savings would lessen the blow on commuters by minimizing some service cuts and proposed fare hikes.

Among the concessions, operators would reportedly make a one-time contribution to their pension fund for a savings of about
$9 million. The other would not have allowed drivers to start earning overtime pay until they clocked a 40-hour workweek.

“Labor is the biggest piece of the pie,” San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Judson True said. “Reducing labor costs is crucial to addressing our budget challenge.”

Frustration and controversy is mounting among elected officials and riders as fare hikes and service cuts are used to solve SFMTA’s financial woes. On July 1, regular fares to ride a Muni bus increased from $1.50 to $2. Some commuters are trying to organize a boycott of the transit agency, encouraging riders not to purchase monthly Fast Passes in March. Among the demands: “No more rude drivers.”

The unrest is fueling a movement to eliminate the “floor” provision in the City Charter that mandates Muni drivers are paid at least a minimum hourly rate, which is currently set at $27.92 an hour. Under the mandate, union member operators expect to receive $8 million in raises next fiscal year, despite the transit agency’s deficit.

The public policy think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association is working on a November ballot measure with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd that would eliminate the floor, along with “arcane” work rules.

“There’s tremendous cost savings to be had,” Elsbernd said. “For example, why can’t we have part-time bus drivers when we have peak needs at the a.m. and p.m., but because we have to have full-time [drivers], we’ve got drivers who aren’t doing anything in the middle of the day but still getting paid.”

The agency is working to close a projected $16.9 million deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget outlook is worse for next fiscal year, with the agency facing a $53 million deficit. 

Irwin Lum — head of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators — did not return calls seeking comment. It’s expected that Muni operators will take another vote on labor concessions this week.

Elsbernd said that even if Muni operators approve the labor concessions, he still plans to gather 70,000 signatures by July to place the measure on the November ballot.

“The issue is: Can Muni continue to afford automatic wage increases and can Muni continue to afford these arcane work rules on the backs of Muni riders, through fare hikes and service cuts?” Elsbernd said.

If the measure makes it onto the November ballot and is approved by voters, it would have an impact when Muni operators’ contract expires in June 2011 and the labor negotiations begin.

“We will be starting from scratch,” Elsbernd said. 

Tallying up OT

2,350 Muni operators

82 Operators that earned more than $100,000

622 Operators that earned more than $80,000 

17 Operators that earned more than $50,000 in OT

400 Operators that earned more than $20,000 in OT

Note: Figures based on 2009 calender year.

Source: City Controller’s Office

SFMTA’s top takers behind the wheel

Below are the top 15 highest-paid Muni operators in calendar year 2009. Operators are allowed to accrue overtime despite not clocking a 40-hour workweek. Last week, the union rejected a concession that would have changed that rule.

Total pay        Salary           Overtime         Other pay*

$210,548**    $50,605        $2,630            Unavailable

$157,312**    Unavailable    Unavailable     Unavailable

$146,498       $64,506        $78,722          $3,269

$141,196       $67,986        $71,420          $1,789

$135,878       $65,614        $66,322          $3,941

$133,776       $71,811        $59,206          $2,758

$133,091       $73,295        $56,171          $3,623

$131,088       $65,101        $63,112          $2,875

$130,077       $64,205        $61,868          $4,004

$129,114       $65,660        $58,694          $4,758

$126,073       $70,189        $53,286          $2,597

$125,167       $63,515        $58,717          $2,934

$123,873       $67,452        $53,923          $2,497

$121,483       $66,393        $52,349          $2,740

$121,034       $64,260        $53,413          $3,360

$119,678       $64,229        $52,158          $3,290

* Other pay includes premium pay, which covers items such as training other employees

** SFMTA could not provide a breakdown of the amount as of Feb. 19
Source: City Controller’s Office