San Francisco coughs up $8M in Muni health costs

SF Examiner file photoThe Transport Workers Union reached a settlement over health funds for Muni operators.

SF Examiner file photoThe Transport Workers Union reached a settlement over health funds for Muni operators.

Muni’s operators will receive an $8 million payment from the transit agency as part of a dispute regarding withheld contributions to the union’s health trust fund.

Under the old San Francisco City Charter, members of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A were entitled to annual cash allotments from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to help pay for health, vacation and pension costs. Operators at the union could receive up to $3,000 each from those payouts.

However, in November 2010, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition G, a ballot measure that invalidated the operators’ health trust-fund guarantee in the City Charter. As a result, former SFMTA executive director Nathaniel Ford withheld the payments, which prompted the operators union to sue the transit agency.

On Tuesday, the SFMTA’s board of directors, which governs Muni, approved an $8 million settlement with the union, ending the suit after a year of negotiations.

“Agreeing to pay the $8 million settlement was in the best interest of the agency and its employees and a way to move forward on the issue,” said Debra Johnson, the SFMTA’s director of administration.

Walter Scott, TWU’s secretary-treasurer, said the settlement was both fair and overdue. He said the trust fund is critical in reimbursing union members for lost benefits. He noted that many longtime union veterans, including some who have been with Muni for 30 years, would be entitled to lengthy vacation stints at other jobs, but The City caps vacation time at four weeks a year.

However, the health trust-fund payout has been criticized by many as fiscally irresponsible in light of the SFMTA’s ongoing budget problems. Currently, the SFMTA is facing a two-year $80 million shortfall.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd specifically targeted the annual payment when he helped author Prop. G, which was passed by nearly 65 percent of city voters in 2010.

As part of the passage of Prop. G, the union’s annual health trust-fund contributions are not automatically guaranteed in the City Charter, and must now be negotiated with management.

Scott said the $8 million total awarded to the union atoned for about 18 to 24 months of suspended contributions to the health trust fund. The settlement was approved earlier this month by the union’s members.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Withheld contributions

$3,000 Maximum amount a Muni operator could receive from a yearly trust fund
$8M Amount operators union will receive in withheld pay for health trust funds
$41M Annual savings identified by the SFMTA from recent negotiations with operators union

Source: SFMTA

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