Newsom Upset at Muni Operators’ Rejection, Threatens Ballot Measure

Newsom_and_Pelosi.jpgMayor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at UCSF's Alumni House. SFPD Chief George Gascón looks on. Photos: Matthew Roth

On the heals of yesterday's vote by Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 250 rank-and-file to reject the contract concessions negotiated by their President, Irwin Lum, and Mayor Gavin Newsom and senior management at the San Francisco MTA, Mayor Newsom expressed dismay and said he would support a November ballot initiative to force the issue with the union.

"We're hopeful that they can reconcile and they can go back to their membership and they can reconsider their vote," said Newsom after a press conference with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act held at UCSF's Alumni House.

Newsom said if TWU membership balked, his office would coordinate with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd on his ballot initiative and put the matter before San Francisco voters this fall. Elsbernd's initiative, which he pulled several weeks ago, sought to amend the City Charter so that operator salary and benefits would not be guaranteed, but would be negotiated through the collective bargaining process. Elsbernd told Streetsblog this morning he was "emphatic" about bringing his amendment back for the November ballot.

"We'll go to the people of San Francisco, we'll get signatures collected immediately. Expect that to be done in the next week or two," said Newsom.

Mayor Newsom painted the issue as one between reducing TWU salaries or raising the fares for seniors, youth, and disabled riders, and he was confident the public would send a stern message to the union. "I don't think the riding public is going to accept a wage increase for the drivers at a time when their [own] wages are down and the fares are going to go up, particularly seniors, youth, and disabled."

Wages weren't the only thing the Mayor said would be at issue on the initiative. "I expect there'll be a ballot initiative that will be very robust, much more robust than a simple wage cap elimination. That to me was always a solution in search of a problem. There are work rule issues and other issues that will unquestionably be advanced through a signature drive if they don't go back and immediately reconsider the vote."

According to the MTA, the concessions would have reduced costs by $14.75 million, with $1.95 million coming in the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, which ends June 30, and $12.8 million coming in 2011. Among other measures, the agreement would have meant that operators would pay their own retirement contributions and would have had to work a full 40-hour week before they could collect overtime, rather than existing work rules that allow operators to collect overtime even if they called in sick earlier that same week.

When asked about revenue generation proposals like extended meter hours on Sundays, a proposal the Mayor hinted at supporting last month, Newsom said it was premature. "It's not that simple," he said. "I don't mean to dismiss it, but it's a de minimis issue. The big issues I have to focus on and I'll get to that later."

Nat_and_Judson_3.jpgMTA Spokesperson Judson True and Executive Director Nat Ford.

Riding back from the press conference on the N-Judah with MTA Executive Director Nat Ford, Streetsblog pressed the matter with the agency's chief.

"We are facing probably the worst financial crisis Muni has ever send in its history and it's going to require some bold and creative solutions," said Ford. "I think anything that will preserve service levels and reduce our expenditures to keep fares down, I have to support it."

Ford argued that extending meter hours during evenings or on Sundays would not produce the immediate expenditure reduction the agency needed for this budget cycle, but acknowledged he was looking at Sunday meters for the next budget cycle. "We are talking with the Mayor's office to see if it's a solution for 2011 and 2012," he said. 

Afraid that implementing extended meter hours now might poison the water for SFPark pilots, the occupancy-based parking management and congestion reduction solution the MTA is beginning to roll out, Ford said one of the options the agency is considering would be coordinating a Sunday pilot process into the SFPark program.

"One of the thoughts is to fold the Sunday meter pilot into the SFPark pilot and get some more information that could help us in 2011 and 2012," said Ford. He added that some business districts were supportive of Sunday hours and had contacted the MTA to say they "are interested in at least piloting it to help their businesses on Sundays."

The MTA has already begun installing vehicle occupancy sensors in parts of the SFPark Richmond control area and new meters are expected to be put in later this spring. Funding for the SFPark pilot comes in large part from a federal congestion mitigation grant received last year.