Revisiting familiar city issues

San Francisco’s transit system, MUNI, appears on the ballot at almost every election because so many details of its procedures are spelled out in the City Charter. This year’s MUNI proposition concerns the way employees’ salaries and benefits are set.

 The city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) oversees MUNI, the city’s Municipal Railway transit system. Its employee benefits are governed by several requirements in the Charter:

  • MTA must pay MUNI drivers at least as much as the average salary of transit drivers in the two highest paying transit systems in the country. To calculate this figure, the MTA looks at the salaries of drivers in cities with populations over 500,000.


  • If the benefits provided to MUNI operators are worth less than benefits in comparable transit systems, MTA places an amount equal to the difference in a trust fund.  The money is then paid out to MUNI drivers, usually annually.


  • MTA must pay most managers and employees incentive bonuses if MUNI achieves certain service standards.


For most city employees, if the City and the unions are unable to agree in collective bargaining, disputes are subject to binding arbitration. The MTA’s negotiations with transit operators are not subject to binding arbitration.

The new proposition eliminates the current formula for setting salaries and instead allows MTA to set salaries and benefits through collective bargaining and binding arbitration.  The trust fund would be eliminated, but MTA’s contribution to drivers’ health coverage must be at least equivalent to the City contribution for other employees.  Bonuses for managers and employees would be optional. The ballot measure would also eliminate the informal agreements which now govern some working conditions unless they were approved in writing and included in collective bargaining agreements.

The second ballot measure discussed by the committee today also deals with a familiar topic—seismic retrofitting. This bond measure applies only to a specific category of buildings—soft-story buildings that contain affordable housing units. Soft-story buildings are multistory wood structures where at least one floor has large outside wall openings such as garage doors. There are about 125 of these soft-story buildings with affordable housing units funded by government agencies and another 31 single-room occupancy buildings. Together these groups include 8,247 affordable housing units.

The Earthquake Retrofit Bond proposition would allow the City to borrow up to $46,150,000 by issuing general obligation bonds to fund loans or grants to pay for seismic retrofitting of these buildings. The proposition would allow landlords to pass through fifty percent of any increase in property tax to tenants. As with other City bonds, the expenditures would be subject to independent oversight and regular audits.  

The latest estimate of the number of ballot measures that will come before voters on November 2, 2010, is 15 city measures and 10 state measures. There still may be changes in the number of City measures; check back to this blog for updates.

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