Monday, June 13, 2011

Epic Failures By MTA and Local 250-A

I am starting to wonder if the Muni Operator union is taking advice from the Yasser Arrafat diplomacy playbook. In case you don't know, it was once summed up by Abba Eban as "Never missing a chance to miss a chance." Luckily for them, they were saved from themselves today by an arbitrator.

How were they saved from themselves?

Well, after voting down the unbelievably outrageous deal that Mr. Ford and the MTA offered them, it was sent to binding arbitration. The arbitrator, who coincidentally brokered the deal in the first place, ordered it in effect. Carol Vendrillo, in her decision, wrote "It is the opinion of the mediator/arbitrator that the terms of the (proposed contract) on the disputed issues represent the best resolution of these protracted labor negotiations and are in the best interests of both the parties and the riding public[.]"

Now, I am going to confess to a bit of bias here. I do not think that Ms. Vendrillo should have been the arbitrator. Ms. Vendrillo has an impressive number of years working in this type of situation. However, she was the neutral that helped broker the deal. In my experience, I've found that after a while, this makes them favor the deal that they help author. This could be lead to some bias if they are later called upon, as she was in this instance, to pass judgment on the deal she brokered.

How did Muni employees miss a chance?

Let's start with how Local 250-A, the Muni Operators union described the proposed deal. On their website, they stated,

In collective bargaining this year, MTA sought to reduce our total compensation by nearly 20% through numerous threatened changes to our MOU.  With your support and strength, we were able to negotiate a Tentative Agreement under which you lose no wages, no premiums, no allowances and no benefits.  Moreover, under the Tentative Agreement your monthly healthcare costs will substantially decrease, and MTA will continue to pickup the 7.5% employee pension contribution.  We were also able to eliminate the absenteeism policy (Bulletin 10-039) which MTA unilaterally imposed last year, increase report time, and obtain a grievance process that ends in binding arbitration like all other City employees have. 

Now for those who have not been following the Muni saga here in the city, the MTA, surprisingly, tried to get tough on absenteesim last year.  They had the radical notion that if you are calling in sick, then you need a sick note. Despite the fact that this reduced absenteeism, one of the leading causes of why Muni was spending so much on overtime (because of the scheduling rules in the agreement which has expired) on drivers. Yet, this "radicial" policy has been eliminated from the proposed agreement.

Yet another example of Nathaniel Ford's dynamic leadership. Upon discovering a program that increases productivity, revenue, or efficiency of the system, at all costs it must be eliminated!

But ti might not be over yet. Some of the Muni drivers are talking walk out even though it would not be sanctioned by the union.

How did Mr. Ford and the MTA fail?

In looking at the agreement, it seems that it was even worse than what Nathaniel Ford was touting. No change to compensation. Increases in spending by Muni, without corresponding increases by the drivers, for their healthcare costs. Increase in protection for operators who fail to show up for work. No real reform of how the pension works.

What is almost more troubling than the money and pension reform aspects, is the proposed change in safety. As of now, Muni is averaging over 2000 accidents a year. Its drivers are found to be responsible in just 25% of those incidents. Yet when compared to other transit agencies of similar size or larger, the number becomes more curious. East Bay AC drivers are found at fault 30% of the time. Seattle and Portland drivers are found to be at fault 33% and 47% the time respectively. Now, maybe SF drivers are better. But in watching them cut me off on occasion, I can't believe that.  The numbers seem just too neat on the SF Muni drivers part.

Now, add into that that under the new rule, if the accident's property damage value is less than $15,000 or less (and with only  minor injuries to boot), then no action can be taken against the driver.

Read that again. Does that make sense? I'm not saying that a driver should lose his job over a minor fender bender. But maybe there needs to be some discipline to get the point home on how you drive a massive wheeled vehicle that could cause serious damage or loss of life. It seems that Nathaniel Ford and the Local 250-A are being more than a little cavalier with their attitude towards safety.

Make no mistake, Nathanial Ford just proved that he is not the man for this or any other job. He had support, he had the upper hand, and he was more concerned about appearing to "spike the football" than getting a contract that served the interests of the citizens of San Francisco.

The operators won. There is only partial concessions on work rules. In the end, nothing else changed. The operators are laughing all the way to the bank on this one. No meaningful change which favored the citizens of San Francisco were made with regards to pensions, absenteeism, or pay. For failing to meet the goals, they will continue to be rewarded as some of the highest paid drivers in the country. The MTA will continue to hemorrage money. And this means more cuts to services.

In terms of numbers, Muni is running, currently, at $21 million deficit. This deal will only start to make a dent in that as it is projected to save them $38 million per year over three years. In other words, a little over $12 million per year. Guess where the rest of the deficit is going to come from.

Thank you Mr. Ford and Muni drivers for wrecking Muni and leaving the taxpayers and the fare-payers to make up for your shortsightedness and venality.

Below the fold is the decision.

Arbitrator Award

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