SF Supervisor Elsbernd Pulls Muni Operator Ballot Amendment

Hearing_small.jpgPhoto: Matthew Roth
In a move that delighted the dozens of MTA bus and light-rail drivers and representatives of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 250 at the Board of Supervisor's Rules Committee Meeting today, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd withdrew a proposed charter amendment that would have removed a provision in the city charter that sets Muni base wages and benefits, on average, to the two highest paying transit systems nationally. The amendment would have required base wages and benefits be set through collective bargaining.

Elsbernd said that in light of his amendment not generating immediate cost reductions to meet the current MTA budget deficit and because the TWU has been engaging with MTA management, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and the Board of Supervisors, he moved to withdraw the amendment.

"Recognizing that this charter amendment could present a toxic element to those discussions, I would ask the committee to table this item," said Elsbernd, which drew uproarious applause from the audience in chambers.

TWU President Irwin Lum thanked Elsbernd in his comments, striking a conciliatory tone and asking for the politics to be taken out of the negotiations.

"This is a discussion that should be dealt with in-house between management and labor," said Lum. "We want to emphasize we're not the problem with Muni. We want to be part of the solution to fix the situation and make sure riders and the public are not hurt by these cuts."

Numerous other labor leaders stepped to the microphone to thank Elsbernd and express their solidarity with the transit operators. After a huge turnout of TWU base in support of killing a ballot amendment from earlier in the Rules Committee meeting, which would have prevented firefighters from getting overtime until they worked 52 hours in a week, John Hanley of Firefighters Union Local 798 spoke passionately in favor of transit workers.

"We support Supervisor Elsbernd's wise and smart move by pulling this charter amendment," said Hanley  "It makes sense to pull it. Thinking of the brave Muni drivers and the work they do--they are dealing with a population that most of us wouldn't want to deal with."

After all the testimony and comments by Supervisors Campos and Mar, Elsbernd, who looked pained through the process, mouthed a choice epithet in the direction of the wider chamber.

Supervisor Chris Daly, never one to hold back his tongue, said that Elsbernd made the compromise and withdrew the amendment because Mayor Newsom leaned on him to do so. "Newsom put the kibosh on it," said Daly. "He's trying to look more pro-labor than the Board."

As for the discussions between MTA management and TWU, Lum would only say that the negotiations were ongoing and that any concessions made by the union would have to go back to membership for approval. Lum didn't provide a timeline for that process, though he and management have been meeting regularly with Mayor Newsom and supervisors in closed quarters.