Muni savings outlook hits bumpy road

Those labor savings from Muni’s historic contract negotiations with its operators union might not be so historic after all.

Last summer, the two sides engaged in contentious contract talks that nearly ended when the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators, threatened to strike. Thanks to Proposition G, an initiative passed by voters in 2010, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency had unprecedented leverage to negotiate the operators’ work rules and salary stipulations, which had long been enshrined in the City Charter and were immune to bargaining.

When the talks were over, the SFMTA, which operates Muni, claimed that the new operators contract would save roughly $13.7 million a year — a crucial component in helping the agency overcome a two-year budget shortfall of $80 million.

However, the SFMTA recently revised the contract savings in its upcoming two-year budget to project just $5.8 million in annual savings — or $17.4 million over three years.

That doesn’t include the $8 million the agency doled out last week to the union for back pay owed to the operators’ health trust fund. When that total is subtracted, the agency is really only set to enjoy $9.4 million in labor savings over three years — a 77 percent reduction from what was originally touted.

Jamie Horwitz, a TWU spokesman, said the SFMTA was never going to be able to achieve the savings it claimed from the new operators contract.

“We said from the beginning that the SFMTA was wildly overstating its savings,” Horwitz said. “These new budget numbers reflect that.”

The projected savings from the operators contract has fluctuated since the two sides began negotiations in April. Originally, the SFMTA forecast $26 million a year in reduced labor costs from the new contract. Those projections were downgraded to $7 million in May. When the talks were completed in June, the SFMTA said the new contract would save $41 million over three years.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency still plans on achieving those savings — it just can’t factor them into its upcoming two-year budget until new efficiencies are put in place. Only a few of the cost-saving measures established by the summer contract negotiations — which include everything from adding part-time drivers to eliminating “operator of the month” bonuses — have yet been implemented.

“We are currently laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable work rules that will allow for a better overall transit system,” Rose said via email.

However, the SFMTA frequently budgets cost-saving or revenue-generating proposals before they’ve actually been implemented.

For this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, the agency projected to generate $7 million from enforcing a long-dormant garage parking ordinance. After the budget was passed, that effort was dropped, which helped contribute to the agency’s current $28 million shortfall.

Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR and one of the authors of Prop. G, said contract savings weren’t the sole purpose of the initiative — the ultimate aim is to speed up Muni and improve the labor-management culture at the agency.

Roller-coaster ride

The SFMTA’s projected labor savings from its new contract with the operators union has fluctuated wildly. Here is a look at the various projections at certain dates this year.

Date            Projected Annual Savings
4/13/11        $26 million
5/31/11        $7 million
6/13/11         $13.7 million
11/14/11        $5.8 million

Source: SFMTA

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