Corporate Pimp SF Mayor Ed Lee's MTA Attacks TWU 250A Drivers For Taking Breaks Allowed Under OSHA Law

Corporate Pimp SF Mayor Ed Lee's MTA Attacks TWU 250A Drivers For Taking Breaks Allowed Under OSHA Law

Muni slams brakes on excessive breaks

Muni bus drivers usually take their break at the end of their transit line but some operators are taking too many breaks during their runs. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)
By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez on May 24, 2016 1:00 am
Much to the surprise of passengers riding a 9-San Bruno Muni bus in February, their operator hopped out of the vehicle for a 20-minute meal at McDonald’s — while the passengers waited on the bus.

Video of the incident was pulled by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency after a passenger complained. The images confirmed the operator did, in fact, force passengers to wait while eating at the fast food restaurant, said Paul Rose, an agency spokesperson.

It wasn’t the first video the SFMTA has pulled of operators taking breaks — and it won’t be the last.

Muni drivers who take too many “personal necessity” breaks are coming under scrutiny from their bosses — and may even be captured leaving their vehicles on video by The City in an attempt to catch the frequent break-takers, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The agency is assembling monthly lists of bus and train operators who use the bathroom or otherwise take breaks too often, according to an internal SFMTA memo obtained by the Examiner.

These breaks are called “702s,” which refers to the communication code an operator gives Muni central control when they need to take an immediate break.

But operators who did not wish to speak on the record for fear of retaliation said pulling video of operators who may be on their way to the bathroom, or simply smoking a cigarette, is an invasion of their privacy.

“They’re trying to intimidate our members,” said Eric Williams, head of Muni’s Transit Workers Union Local 250-A.

“This is not kindergarten,” he added. “You push the button to notify central control, ‘I’m going out on a 702,’” he said, adding that sometimes after a bus run, operators are simply “burnt” and need a moment to rest.

The SFMTA, however, told the Examiner the agency needs to crack down on the worst offenders because excessive breaks could slow down the Muni system.

The vast majority of operators “use these 702s responsibly,” but there are about 10 operators out of the total 2,200 who use breaks excessively, said Rose.

“When these unscheduled breaks occur repeatedly on some of our community lines, like the 37-Corbett, which has a limited amount of vehicles on the line, it can significantly impact the system,” he added.

While such breaks can be taken at any time — operators can even halt a train to hop into a bathroom at a cafe, for instance — operators and the SFMTA described the practice as rare. The majority of breaks are taken at the end of a run.

But the increased number of 702s prompted the SFMTA to start tracking them this year, Rose said.

The memo on tracking breaks from an SFMTA superintendent reads, “NEW OCC PROCEDURES FOR DOCUMENTING OPERATOR 702’S.” It then lists procedures for tracking driver breaks, including asking for reason and length of time of the break. If there is a delay caused to a bus schedule, that information must be forwarded to Muni superintendents.

“Call to have video pulled at a level 2 priorities using the arrival time to the departure time of the 702,” the memo continues.

The list the Examiner obtained shows the top operators using 702 breaks between March 11 and April 11 used 19 breaks that month, followed by 16, 14, 13 and 12 breaks for the next most frequent users.

Rose said the first step after identifying an operator taking excessive breaks is to assess their health, then later, to reevaluate whether SFMTA gave enough time for breaks in their schedules.

“Discipline is a last resort,” Rose said, though Williams said disciplining operators for taking 702s is not possible in the current contract.

Operators on background told the Examiner the rise of 702 breaks is a result of cutting back on the number of scheduled breaks provided during a shift. The breaks are used not only for the bathroom, but to stretch
or rest after a trying run, Williams said.

Echoing the story of the driver who pulled over to eat at McDonald’s, Williams agreed that eating lunch is an abuse of a 702.

“Now, do we want our members to break out a Yogi bear picnic in the bus? You can’t use an excuse that you need to eat your lunch. You’re already paid for a lunch.”

But Williams also pointed out that in an effort to penalize less than a dozen operators, SFMTA is putting a chilling effect on the other 2,000 or so operators who follow the rules — a possible danger to their health.

“I have members that tell me, ‘I don’t want to use the restroom because I’m not going to have enough time,’” Williams said. “This is what’s frustrating to me.”