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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

City Audit Slams Muni Labor, Management

Posted By on Tue, May 11, 2010 at 1:47 PM

Plenty of fail to go around... - BRYAN DEMPLER
  • Bryan Dempler
  • Plenty of fail to go around...
City's Budget Analyst Harvey Rose released "part one" of a performance audit of Muni today. And, guess what? Muni drivers' self-serving work rules cost the city millions. The agency is drowning in overtime, accounting for just under half of the entire city's total. And the board that supposedly runs Muni is asleep at the wheel.

The audit didn't touch on that unidentified liquid coating the floor of the 38 Geary or your 19-minute wait for a J-Church; perhaps that'll be in the forthcoming part two. But it provided analytical backup for just about every other popular gripe about Muni mismanagement, many of which were touched in SF Weekly's recent cover story, "The Muni Death Spiral."

Supervisors David Campos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi handed out copies of the report to the press this afternoon and were then put in the awkward position of holding forth on a 132-page document they had not yet read (you can read it here).

We've now pored through the 22-page executive summary and talked on and off the record with the supes. And here's your takeaway:

Just like this N-Judah, the budget analyst's audit was packed - JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
  • Just like this N-Judah, the budget analyst's audit was packed
The progressive supes seem all but certain to target the Municipal Transportation Agency Board via a charter amendment, which must be submitted by next week to appear on November's ballot. Bet heavily that the supes will attempt to wrest some appointments on Muni's overseeing body away from Mayor Gavin Newsom, who currently names all seven members of the MTA Board. "The MTA board is essentially a staff-driven, rubber-stamping authority," Mirkarimi told the press. It produces "A staff-driven dictation ... Most of these dictations go unchallenged, especially on the financial side." Campos later played up the split-board nature of the Police and Planning Commissions. So, again, bet heavily.

The other intriguing development out of today's audit release was the news that the intransigent Transportation Workers Union appears to be on thin ice, even with the progressive faction of the Board of Supervisors. The alarming financial numbers and archaic practices highlighted in the budget analyst's audit are too much to ignore, even for supervisors accustomed to looking the other way regarding union behavior when decrying Muni's overall morass.

Here's your blow-by-blow of the audit:

  • Muni drivers earn a total equal to 20 percent of their salaries in overtime in the most recent budget. These overtime hours are so high largely because union work rules prevent Muni from hiring part-time drivers. Muni drivers' ratio of hours paid to hours worked -- essentially a measure of institutional reliance upon overtime -- is worse than four other comparable transit agencies (Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Atlanta; Chicago). All of the others hire part-time drivers to ease the rush hour burden.

  • The budget analyst identified six Muni divisions in which drivers are spending more time on "standby" -- that is, sitting around and waiting for an assignment -- than actually driving.

  • Seven drivers work 100 percent of the time on TWU union activities and earn a total of $608,000 every year. Putting six of those drivers back behind the wheel would save half a million dollars a year.
    click to enlarge JIM HERD
    • Jim Herd

  • Muni does not track scheduled and unscheduled overtime separately -- making it difficult to notice swells in unscheduled OT in a timely fashion. What's more, Muni does not make regular reports about its rampant absenteeism and overtime -- and, remember, this is the agency accounting for virtually half the city's OT -- to its board of directors. Just one agenda item regarding overtime appears on the MTA Board's meeting minutes over the past two years. That item, however, was removed from the agenda prior to the meeting.

  • In one of the most ill-conceived of Muni's many troublesome work rules, drivers may begin earning overtime by combining actual work hours with paid sick leave -- meaning an operator can work for time-and-a-half on his regular day off after taking a sick day or staying home via some other approved leave the day before.

  • The MTA Board, which supposedly governs the agency, has never adopted a "formal written statement on governance principles." It does not have regular discussions to monitor the policies it has proposed be adopted and enacted. It does not "discuss the financial statement and related financial issues in Board meetings, although the SFMTA Board oversees the annual SFMTA operating budget of $768.6 million." It does not have an audit committee to track the transit agency's finances (nine other agencies surveyed by the budget analyst had such committees).

The budget analyst identified $3 million in off-the-bat savings: $1.2 million in eliminating "standby" pay for drivers twiddling their thumbs; $500,000 for putting full-time union reps back behind the wheel; and $1.4 million in reduced unscheduled overtime. Mirkarimi thought those numbers were conservative and could go much higher.

While it seems apparent the progressive supes will push a charter amendment allowing them some say in staffing the MTA Board, it remains unclear how they'll handle Muni's ongoing labor problem. Making matters murkier, one supe told SF Weekly, is that the TWU is going through an internecine leadership struggle, with union boss Irwin Lum struggling to hold onto his spot.

How the supervisors plan to "fix" Muni will become more apparent next week. In the meantime -- service cuts for everybody.

Photos   |   N-Judah Chronicles, Bryan Dempler, Jim Herd

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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