"Overtime is not a four-letter word in transit,” San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Transit Director John Haley, seeking to downplay the problem of overtime abuse, told the Board of Supervisors Audits and Oversight Committee in May.
Haley is correct — “overtime” is actually two conjoined four-letter words. The supervisors looked like they wanted to let fly with a few four-letter words of their own as they listened to the SFMTA’s excuses for its history of abusing its overtime budget.
Last year, the transit agency spent $65 million for overtime, more than twice the $30.8 million it had budgeted. In the current fiscal year that began in July, the SFMTA has already spent more than $12 million on overtime. It’s on pace to shell out more than $56 million this year, exceeding its overtime budget by $25 million.
Under city rules, overtime hours are capped at 624 a year per worker. But 74 employees had already blown through the overtime cap during the first six months of the last fiscal year; 48 of them work for the SFMTA. In just six months, one Muni station agent racked up more than 1,000 hours of overtime — the equivalent of 125 extra eight-hour work days — costing $53,700. Seven transit workers each logged more than 800 hours of overtime.
Overtime is a problem throughout San Francisco’s government, but Muni is by far the worst. Over the past six years, the agency’s overtime spending as a percentage of its total payroll has risen from 11 to 14 percent, while the other city departments have averaged about 6 percent.
The problem has gone on for so long that Supervisor David Chiu said to Haley, “It seems like this is just Groundhog Day, year after year, every six months the overtime costs keep going up. What assurance do we have that in six months or a year we will have a different report that comes back?”
Haley was unable to provide that assurance, but he did have a variety of explanations for the overtime abuse
Chief among them is that union contracts have prevented the hiring of part-time drivers. As a result, drivers working the morning commute are allowed to remain on standby — on the clock but not actually working — until they go back to work for the afternoon commute, resulting in a 12-hour workday with overtime pay. Fortunately, the latest contract allows for the hiring of part-time workers, reducing the need for overtime.
Other contributors have been a union contract (since amended) that paid overtime for working on the weekend even though Muni is a 24/7 operation, an aging vehicle fleet requiring increasing maintenance, unanticipated special events like last year’s World Series and a budgeting process that has consistently underestimated labor costs.
We realize that SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin, who was hired in July, did not create this problem. But we hope he will no longer pass the overtime bucks, and will finally put a halt to this waste of taxpayer dollars.