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No Free Rides: Finally, Inevitably: Muni Is Suing Muni

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You can add Muni management to the burgeoning list of people blindsided by Muni drivers.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge certified some 2,500 drivers — every man and woman who has slipped behind the wheel of a bus, train, trolley, or cable car since July 2009 — as a class in a federal suit against Muni. And, like Muni, that suit is moving forward with extreme slowness — and may cost the city an arm and a leg.

In a strongly worded ruling, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers affirmed the drivers have "provided substantial evidence" they've been stiffed in the myriad ways they claim Muni is stiffing them. These include interludes spent performing post-driving inspections; travels from one bus or train to another when switching runs; and time expended wandering from the final bus or train run of the day to their personal vehicles.

Muni, the drivers claim, pays them based upon "a predetermined amount of driving time," yet "has a practice of designing its routes in a manner that makes it impossible for Operators to stay on schedule."

Management demurred, stating operators' experiences are varied — and, in nonlegal jargon, their own damn fault; a driver who failed to submit overtime cards due to "laziness" was prominently cited.

"The Court finds Defendant's arguments unavailing," wrote the judge.

The plaintiffs accuse Muni — and the city — of failing to adhere to the Minimum Wage Ordinance en masse, since July 16, 2009, for the class of 2,500 workers. While yes, Muni drivers are paid significantly more than minimum wage, this claim is based upon the notion that Muni failed to compensate its drivers for the aforementioned time periods. The city, incidentally, claims that, per the city's Minimum Wage Ordinance, "the City ... is not an 'employer' as that term is defined."

There's a lot of money riding on this determination. Multiply the $50 daily penalty for violating the Minimum Wage Ordinance by five years worth of days and 2,500 workers. The total: $228 million. That's a lot of cash. And a lot of leverage, if a settlement is in the offing.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose declined to comment, deferring to the City Attorney's Office — which declined to comment. So did plaintiffs' attorney Steve Tidrick. The warring parties are next scheduled to meet on Aug. 8. If Tidrick is right, by that time, the city will owe his clients roughly $10 million more.

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