Work schedules obtained by Mission Local reveal that Patrick Ricketts, the journeyman electrician who was killed last month while working on Muni’s Twin Peaks tunnel project, was putting in what one city official described as “crazy hours.”
Ricketts, 51, was killed Aug. 10 when a steel beam fell onto him. Among the very first things his widow purportedly said when informed of her husband’s death was: “Well, I know this job is really on a crunch time.”
The work schedule for Ricketts would seem to prove this quite true. The journeyman electrician was routinely putting in 12-, 13-, or even 13.25-hour days — adding up to 80-plus-hour weeks.
Ricketts’ hours spiked the week of June 25, when the tunnel was closed for two months of long-planned maintenance and upgrades. He put in 82 hours that week, up from 30.5 the week prior. His work totals dropped to 50 and 53 hours over the next two weeks, but he then put in 68, 85, 79.5 and 67.5 hours — and that final total represents a work week truncated by his untimely death.
Questions directed to Muni about its policy regarding construction contractors putting in extreme hours such as these — or whether these work totals come as a surprise — were not answered by press time.
But, says John Doherty, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 6, it’s all 100 percent above board. “Under the collective bargaining agreement he was working under,” Doherty confirmed, “there were no restrictions on the number of hours a member can work.”
State rules regarding construction work are largely concerned with compensation rates rather than maximum allowable daily or weekly hours. Labor sources described the number of hours Ricketts was working on a publicly funded job as extreme, but hardly unheard of.
One fellow union worker recalled 24-hour, split-shift concrete pours and marathon workdays — also financed by the public’s dime — during the time-sensitive construction of Mt. Davis at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.
Ricketts earned extensive overtime and double-time payments during his busy months on the job. But, as Doherty notes, “the whole point behind overtime and double-time is that it’s not meant to be a bonus for the worker. It’s meant to be a deterrent to overworking people.” And yet Ricketts worked a great deal of hours, regardless. This was largely due to his specialty, Doherty continues. Ricketts’ expertise was in signaling, and this was a period when his work was intensely required.
Ricketts’ death came as workers were facing down an end-of-August deadline — and, also, right as the riding public was finally being made aware of the connection between the closure of the tunnel and citywide transit slowdowns on bus lines miles away from the project.
The fatal accident led to the revelation that Ricketts’ employer, Shimmick Construction, was apparently less than forthright when answering a pre-bid questionnaire regarding its prior safety record. Mayor London Breed rebuked Muni over this, demanding it devise stronger safeguards to fact-check contractors’ records.
An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into the events leading to Ricketts’ death is ongoing. City sources, meanwhile, say that Ricketts was killed when he left his work area to fetch a tool and was struck by the falling steel beam. Whether his colleagues — particularly the ones responsible for work on the steel beam — were working similarly lengthy hours “is something OSHA will be looking at,” we are told.
Mission Local obtained Ricketts’ schedules via a public records request. We have, subsequently, made a similar request for the hours of his colleagues who were working on August 10, the day of Ricketts’ death — and for the hours put in by the workers who installed the steel beam that killed Ricketts.
Update, 10:15 a.m.: Muni responds to our queries about the hours its contract workers put in on this project — “The number of hours any particular employee works can vary from project to project and company to company. SFMTA generally specifies the scope of the work to be performed. When contractors enter into a contract with SFMTA, the contractor is agreeing to perform a task within specific parameters. Ultimately, it is the contractor’s business decision to staff the job according to the client’s needs and within federal, state, and local regulatory requirements (e.g., apprentice participation, diversity participation).
“This was a 60-day project that ran 24 hours/day with multiple shifts. You will most likely need to discuss with the contractors what is the maximum allowed per shift based on union rules. Typically the prime contractor coordinates with the union when they have to work longer than typical hours or change work shifts. We do not specify maximum allowable hours in our contracts or specify standards.”