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.

  • Yes, the TWU needs to make some concessions, but the MTA needs to look at mid-management. Also, if you really want to reduce operator costs, speed up the fleet so that you’ll need fewer buses to make the same head ways.

    i.e. more transit only lanes and stop reduction.

  • John Hanley, from the fire fighters union:

    “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.”

    Ha! Muni-riding Scum!

  • John Henry

    This is bullshit, plain and simple. I am in a union in San Francisco and am involved in contract negotiations with our 50+ different employers, each having a different contract. The idea that a union need never have contract negotiations with its ONLY signatory is corruption embodied. TWU local 250 is a union with a nasty history of mis-management and occasional criminality (The 2003 president ran openly on his experience as a pimp and was forced to resign only after a SF Weekly cover story proved too big a liability for the union to handle). Collective Bargaining Agreements are the heart of organized labor. A union that does not engage in negotiations is a syndicate, not a union. For this to happen at a time when Muni riders are left standing in the rain with cuts to the agency’s already piss-poor services is a slap in the face to all San Franciscans. Too bad that S.E. is thinking about labor endorsements in the next election more than serving the people of SF.

  • soylatte

    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.

    =====================

    WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF

    Cutting service is not a toxic element? That’s A-OK, right? But this completely bullshit requirement stays? All this time I have wondered: is this provision even legal??

  • Nick

    I think it is a dangerous precedent to have the public start demanding concessions or modified labor agreements from the various agencies (police, fire, medical, transit). These are issues for the leaders of labor and management to deal with.

    Sure the MTA has a budget problem, but they can’t nickel and dime everyone who comes in contact with them as a road to fiscal responsibility.

  • Greg

    Glad to hear that my kids and I are part of “a population that most of us wouldn’t want to deal with”!

  • soylatte

    “I think it is a dangerous precedent to have the public start demanding concessions or modified labor agreements from the various agencies (police, fire, medical, transit).”

    I think it is a dangerous precedent to have totally crazy provisions such as this one on the books.

    “These are issues for the leaders of labor and management to deal with.”

    Yep, don’t worry. The men behind the curtain will handle this. Your opinion is not needed. You only need to pay for whatever is agreed upon.

  • Union

    What a farce!

    Every other union–public and private–in SF has had to accept salary reductions in this economy, including every other union at SFMTA. FOR SOME RIDICULOUS REASON the transit operators’ salary is coded into the Charter, which no other SF union has.

    So now, the transit-dependent citizens of SF get draconian cuts and fare hikes, because that’s the only way to reduce costs!

    EVERYONE needs to feel the pain, including the operators.

  • Nick. As far as I know, the current labor agreement was not negotiated between management and labor but, instead, exists as a charter amendment that cannot be changed without a citywide vote. As such, management can not, as you seem to want, negotiate fairly or effectively with labor.

    I come from a union family and I’m a huge union supporter, but this kind of contract (and the contract we have with the fire fighters) is a poor way to manage city agencies.

    Through this whole debate it’s important to remember that our MUNI troubles are not primarily problems of labor – they are primarily problems of mismanagement. Mismanagement at the MTA level and political mismanagement at the state and federal level. Whenever times get tough management (and Republicans in general) try to pin all our financial woes on the pay and benefits of workers when it is only one very small piece in the bigger fiscal puzzle.

  • as a former shop steward for the uaw, i’ve come to the realization that the contemporary model of what a union is is out of date. sure, people need some level of job protection. sure, people need a livable wage, but some of the out-dated shenanigans that unions pull are just plain ludicrous, self destructive and destructive to others – muni’s riders. it’s as destructive as any mis-management by the bosses. there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility. this isn’t 1952, times have changed. and in these uncertain times, either you take a lower wage, like everybody else or you lose your job.

    what’s it gonna be?

    highest paid and worst performing. screw muni. i’ll ride my bike.

  • Rona

    MTA Management is spending out of control and it is definately not in the area of operations. It is a fact that Transit Operators are doing a very hard job. The MUNI Transit Operator has one of the most difficult jobs in the country to include comparison with New York. Why shouldn’t the MUNI Transit Operator be paid for the tough Job they do? Operators do not make the decisions that result in a challenged system. Why is there so much hate for the Transit Operator? There is no security on coaches and people who are misinformed and believe in irresponsible media coverage board buses and strike out on the first Operator they see whether the service provided is good or bad.

    Operators do not make the schedules nor are they the reason why the system is what it is. MUNI Operators are true scapegoats for everything that’s wrong with MUNI.

    Intelligent well thought out analysis of the situation would prove just the opposite of the discrminatory generalizations expressed in some of the comments in the blog.

    Bad sources of information would have the public believe that there is no Memorandum of Understanding; however, negotiations take place every four years.

  • Bill

    Rona, I disagree. You say, “transit operators are doing a very hard job.” So are most other people – that’s life. This clause in their contract where they get the same pay as the two highest paid transit districts is ridiculous and should be ended immediately. As I understand it, bus drivers START, that’s right START at $60,000 per year – if I’m wrong, tell me the correct figure. That’s pretty high for a driving job when you consider all the other perks – overtime, great pensions, lots of days off, sick days not taken are converted into cash.

    Fact is THE MONEY JUST ISN’T THERE. And you apparently want the people who need Muni to subsidize ridiculous salaries and perks for bus drivers.

    What’s going on there is corruption, plain and simple. For the record I am a strong union supporter but this isn’t about labor rights, this is about using “might makes right” tactics to scare politicians and get ridiculous contracts.

  • Rona

    I doubt if you are a strong Union Supporter. Corruption, you must be referring to MTA’s mismanagement of funds which has nothing to do with the hard working Operators of MUNI. Being paid in comparison with other Transit Systems should be expected not attacked. Do your homework…Sam Trans, Ac, VTA, BART all within the range of MUNI Operator pay (ridiculous or corrupt)

    So are most other people – that’s life? Yeah…Well I beg to differ. Operators are being spat on assaulted, misused and abused on a daily basis and have little or no control of their surroundings. Your not pro-labor

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