Muni drivers missing work eats up precious funds

An ongoing rise in unexplained absences among Muni transit operators forces the agency to pay overtime and reduce service.

Transit operators missed 15.2 percent of their workdays, according to a recent quarterly report from the Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni operations. The transit agency has set a goal of 10.2 percent unexplained absences, a figure operators surpassed by nearly 50 percent in July, August and September.

When operators miss work because of unexplained absences — which encompass sick days, jury duty, military leave or industrial claims, among other factors — Muni often has to use an another operator collecting overtime pay or somehow cut back service, according to transit agency spokesman Judson True.

The MTA already is facing a
$47 million projected shortfall this fiscal year, although some measures recently identified should reduce that total to $21.8 million.

True said the transit agency is coming up with a new plan to increase the amount of available drivers who could fill in without receiving overtime pay.

“We’re working to make sure we have operators to fill in runs for people who aren’t there, but increasing absenteeism clearly affects service,” he said. “It’s unacceptable and we have to do more to make sure our operators are healthy and back in service.”

Irwin Lum, spokesman for the Transport Workers Union Local 250, said lax maintenance of Muni’s transit vehicles accounts for many of the unexplained absences of transit operators, who suffer back injuries and other ailments because of the problems. Lum also said his organization has noticed an increase in physical assaults against operators, creating a climate of fear that leaves many workers wary of reporting for duty.

“There are a lot of big changes happening to Muni, and if someone doesn’t like it, the first person they take it out on is the operator,” Lum said. “That’s a pretty different
environment than someone sitting at a desk.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who called the absences “unacceptable,” said he has spoken with MTA chief Nathaniel Ford about the issue, and he was assured that “it will be dealt with.”

Transit operators’ 15.2 percent unexplained absence rate was much higher than other branches of the MTA. Administrators tallied a 4.4 percent unexplained absences rate, maintenance workers had a 5.2 percent figure and operations employees recorded a 5.8 percent mark.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

 

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