Report dings SFMTA over chronic absenteeism

Persistent problems with employees not showing up for work at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is laid out in a report by the City Controller’s Office that the transit agency requested the office to conduct.

According to the report, the SFMTA had the second highest employee absenteeism rate out of the 10 departments in The City with the largest budgets and spent approximately $42 million in leave pay during the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Tonia Lediju, director of city audits, wrote in a letter to the SFMTA’s Board of Directors and Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, on what the transit agency’s management was lacking in curbing chronic employee absenteeism:

“The audit found that SFMTA needs to improve its overall organizational culture, which should increase employee engagement and allow for better management of employee absenteeism.”

Auditors from the controller’s office conducted 132 focus group surveys with SFMTA employees who felt that respect, communication and accountability had to improve within the transit agency so that employee engagement and attendance could improve.

Lediju added:

“The audit also found that SFMTA’s policies and procedures for absence management are inadequate and that SFMTA has no centralized process to manage and monitor long-term absences.”

The report gave 27 recommendations on how the transit agency could improve its problem with absenteeism, including developing a better communication strategy with employees in-person and online, hiring an outsider or an employee to regularly keep track and analyze on employee absences, developing an absence management program, and using data to make decisions for budgeting positions.

The report states that absence management program is key to minimize the negative effects of absences such as an increased in costs of unscheduled absences, increased pressure of other employees covering for absent employees and services not being delivered.

In this case, un-delivered services means canceled Muni runs, which cause longer wait times for passengers, the report said.

Transit operators had the second-highest absenteeism rate at 14 percent during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Parking control officers topped the list with a 16 percent absenteeism rate.

Eric Williams, president of Transport Workers Local 250-A, the union that represents Muni operators, said the transit agency needs to hire more operators, especially part-time operators, in order to curb some of the absenteeism.

He said the union’s members are more than willing to help the transit agency, especially to fill runs such as the express bus routes, but said operators are burning themselves out and just need a day off.

The report included anonymous answers from SFMTA employees who attempted to take one-day vacation:

“When you put in request for one-day vacation (family issue, doctor’s apt), you may not get it because you have taken two already and someone else who requested too only has taken one in the past.”

Another person wrote why some employees use sick time leave:

“We have a lot of people who take sick time to get 1-day vacation (b/c they did not get vacation).”

The report also pointed toward increased overtime costs because employees have to fill in for absent employees. Williams said operators working overtime is important to keep Muni service running.

He added that in order for the SFMTA recruit the right pool of transit operators it wants, the transit agency needs to improve its image:

“Until they do that it won’t change.”

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said:

“We asked the controller to look into this issue for us and to make recommendations for improvement. We appreciated the time they spent on this and have already implemented, or are implementing, their recommendations.”

The public can read the full report on the controller’s office website.