Muni operators deserve payout from settlement, says Mayor Lee

SF Public Press
 — Dec 14 2011 - 6:04pm

San Francisco transit workers got an unexpected holiday bonus, of sorts, after winning back a contested $8 million in health care payouts that the city initially refused to give because it was trying to cut its 2011 budget.

Mayor Ed Lee said Tuesday that he agreed with the decision by the  San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to relinquish the funds to the Transport Workers Union 250-A.

The union, which represents Muni operators, sued the transit agency for $8 million earlier this year for not disbursing a special health trust fund. The transit agency withheld the payment traditionally given at the end of the year after intense labor negotiations, saying it faced a budget shortfall for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Lee said the payment did “raise my eyebrows,” but he agreed that the payout was needed. “We owe that money, and while we won’t have to make a similar payment in the future, this one was already, as they say, on the books.”

The fund was set up to help compensate Muni operators for health care benefits because they received fewer benefits than other city employees.

But Supervisor Scott Wiener objected to the payout at the mayor’s monthly appearance before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. Wiener said the payment was “contrary of the spirit and goals” of Proposition G of 2010, which allowed the agency to abolish the yearly payouts to Muni operators. But the last labor contract ended June 30, which, the union contended, entitled the workers to one last year-end payout in 2011.

Lee said Proposition G would lead to improvements in the system. He said the transit agency is making progress implementing the new labor contract by hiring part-time drivers and making schedule changes.

“I feel confident that the voters will see benefits of Prop. G starting this year and going forward,” Lee said. “In the future I’m looking for a renewed commitment to push forward work-order reform and other efficiency savings that we’re now allowed to do under Prop. G.”

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the agency the initiative would save the city $13.7 million a year just on labor costs. Some of the savings have yet to materialize, such the hiring of part-time drivers.

Since June, the transit agency has already racked up a $28 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, and its finance office now projects an $80 million budget for the next two years.