Muni’s night driver pay is tip of the SF iceberg 

The fate of Muni’s extra 8 percent pay for drivers taking the wheel between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. has become a key issue in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s current labor negotiations. In all likelihood, it is also being watched closely by The City’s other public employee unions — seeking clues about how vulnerable their own “premium pay” perks might be in today’s municipal climate of massive annual deficits and demands for shared sacrifice.

Muni operators earn a base pay of $29.52 an hour, and their 8 percent night-driving pay boost is perhaps the nation’s most generous. The SFMTA gave its operators more than $2.7 million in this premium pay during the 2009-10 fiscal year.

A San Francisco Examiner survey of 12 big-city transit agencies revealed that few if any operators receive as high a night premium for as many hours as what Muni pays. New York, the runner-up city, gives only 4.7 percent. Transit operators in Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. — cities with extensive late-night service — receive no premium pay for graveyard shifts.

Now management is trying to cut the night bonus to 4 percent and pay only for the hours between 11:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. But Transport Workers Union Local 250-A wants to almost double the extra pay from 8 to 15 percent, according to an SFMTA spokesman.

The union has declined to go on record about its negotiation demands. However, Secretary-Treasurer Walter Scott insisted the night bonus is both necessary and well-deserved. He said late-hour shifts have more safety issues and require Muni’s most experienced drivers — who are likely to have families and be unwilling to work nights without higher pay.

These current SFMTA collective bargaining negotiations are the first in decades. Work rules governing Muni transit operators were long enshrined in the City Charter — along with a pay formula guaranteeing them the country’s second-highest driver salaries. But following November’s voter approval of Proposition G, the SFMTA management gained more bargaining leverage.

Whatever happens in the Muni night-differential negotiations is likely to become an important precedent for The City’s upcoming negotiations with its public employee unions. Late-hour bonuses are only part of San Francisco’s convoluted premium pay burden — which cost  taxpayers $66.4 million last year, even as The City struggled with a $575 million budget deficit.

Premiums vary from department to department, paying extra for everything from hazardous duty to advanced employee training. The Board of Supervisors has finally taken notice and assigned the budget analyst to prepare a detailed study of where the money is going.  In the meantime, SFMTA management and the TWU need to reach an agreement on realistic pay for night-driving hours.

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