Proposition G - Setting Transit Operator Wages Through Collective Bargaining

Voter Guide
November 1, 2010
This measure appeared on the November 2010 San Francisco ballot.
 

What it does

Proposition G is an amendment to the San Francisco City Charter that would require San Francisco transit operators to negotiate their wages and benefits through collective bargaining. Currently, transit workers are automatically guaranteed wages and benefits equal to the average of those paid by the two highest-paying transit systems in the country. All other City unions establish wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment through collective bargaining. Although transit operators do bargain with the City over matters other than wages and benefits, because the City and the TransportWorkers Union do not bargain the key elements of compensation, the City's leverage in bargaining is significantly weakened.

Sometimes it is not possible to reach an agreement at the bargaining table. In such cases, the parties reach an "impasse." In San Francisco, bargaining impasses for every group except nurses and transit operators are decided by an arbitrator selected from a list provided by the StateMediation and Conciliation Service. Under the existing charter, the arbitrator must consider, among other things, the City's financial condition. This measure would require the same impasse procedure to apply to transit operators. But the measure sets additional standards for arbitrators deciding on an impasse, including whether a proposal safeguards the interests and welfare of the riders, and whether the City has the ability to meet the cost of an arbitration award "without materially reducing service or interfering with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's ability to efficiently and effectively tailor work hours and schedules for transit system employees to public demand for service."

Most critically, the measure would place the burden on the union to justify work rules that interfere with management's ability to schedule and assign operators, emphasizing that existing work rules will not set a precedent in the future and demonstrating that Muni is following industry best practices.

Finally, the measure provides that informal agreements, including so-called "binding past practices" that historically have hampered Muni's operation, will not be binding unless approved in writing by the Director of Transportation or the MTA Board of Directors. The significance of this last provision is to make sure that all work rules are subject to public scrutiny.

Why it's on the ballot

This is the third major charter reform of Muni in just more than a decade. The first, 1999's Prop. E, created theMTA as the merger of Muni and the Department of Parking and Traffic to create an integrated transportation agency with responsibility for all modes. Prop. E established a baseline minimum funding set-aside of the City's General Fund and incorporated the City's Transit-First policy into the charter, among other things. In November 2007, the voters enacted Prop. A. That measure enhanced the MTA's authority to control traffic flow in the city, authorized theMTA to issue debt, set aside additional parking revenues for transit services, and changed charter provisions that stated that wages and benefits of transit operators "will not be in excess of the average of" the two highest paid transit jurisdictions in the country to a guarantee that operators will not be paid "less than the average of the two highest" transit jurisdictions in the country. In short, Prop. A converted a wage and benefit ceiling into a floor. Since then, transit operator wages periodically have been adjusted automatically.

SPUR was one of the authors and leading proponents of both Prop. E and Prop. A. We consider Prop. G to be an attempt to complete some of the unfinished business of these two previous reform efforts.We were part of the coalition that went along with the experiment of converting the driver's wage formula from a ceiling into a floor in 2007's Prop. A, on the theory that this would lead to management being able to win concessions on work rules. That experiment has failed.

As a result, Prop. G eliminates the wage formula completely. This will allow full collective bargaining and trade-offs between compensation and work rules.

The real motivation behind this measure, however, is to change the work rules at Muni, including:

  • Muni is not allowed to hire extra operators to cover peak periods of demand.
  • High levels of absenteeism are permitted without consequence.
  • Management has limited ability to discipline drivers for improper behavior, and must deal with an extremely cumbersome process to do so.
  • Overtime is paid based on vacation or sick days rather than actual time worked.

An analysis this year showed that better work rules could save Muni millions in operating costs each year. While Prop. G would not directly change work rules (and instead would leave this to future collective bargaining), the intent is to create conditions in which those changes can be negotiated successfully.

Pros

  • Prop. G will give the MTA better ability to negotiate away inefficient work rules that cost the agency millions of dollars every year and align work rules to best industry practices.
  • This charter amendment is moderate and flexible: Rather than cluttering the City Charter with further mandates about worker salaries or deciding work rules at the ballot box, Prop. G allows for dynamic negotiation that does not need to be put in front of the voters again and again as conditions change.
  • The ways this measure goes beyond normal collective bargaining as it is practiced in San Francisco's City government "” requiring the Board of Directors to approve any changes to work rules, directing arbitrators to take the effect on service into account when they mediate labor disputes, and so on "” could set very promising precedents for future good government reforms in San Francisco if they prove to be successful.

Cons

  • As with all collective bargaining processes, there is still no guarantee that this measure will result in any objectionable work rules being changed.
  • Passage of this measure could increase tensions betweenMTA management and the TWU.
  • By allowing bargaining impasses to be resolved by an outside arbitrator, there is still a risk, despite the measure's explicit instructions to arbitrators, that the arbitrator will take an unexpected course. Arbitration decisions present only a very limited opportunity to appeal.Most jurisdictions in California do not use binding arbitration for any employees other than public safety, and it could be argued that San Francisco should move away from this practice if it wants to make serious changes to its cost structure.

SPUR's analysis

SPUR's overall Muni reform agenda includes much more than Prop. G.We have fought successfully in the past 10 years to get Muni hundreds of millions of additional dollars.We have fought to give Muni the ability to redesign San Francisco streets for the benefit of transit and bicycles. We have fought to establish independence from political interference when tough decisions need to be made. We have helped Muni change its routes to serve more riders at less cost. There remains much more to be done. But no one can deny any longer that labor issues are also part of the problem.

Muni has perhaps the worst labor management culture of any City department, and we believe this stems directly from the fact tha Muni drivers, unlike the rest of the City workforce, do not collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions. This has set up a power imbalance in which management has nothing to offer in exchange for concessions on work rules.

This will be the third time we have reformed Muni at the ballot, after Prop. E and A. Our goal through all of these campaigns has been to create a professional, multimodal transit agency with the tools and independence necessary to run an efficient, effective, well-loved, well-used transportation system in San Francisco. We have a long way to go, but Prop. G will be an important step on the way.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Prop. G.