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.

  • Fran Taylor

    Suddenly, when he can bash the Muni drivers, Newsom notices how unfair it is to raise fares and cut service! Did he even know what the discount pass cost before this convenient opportunity arose to show compassion? Amazing how having a scapegoat can sharpen your perspective. But we still can’t charge those sacred car users for Sunday parking, so I guess compassion for senior and disabled riders only goes so far.

  • Nick

    So in the future, we can now blame lack of concessions from labor as being the sole source of service cuts? The TWU must be a weak union for Newsom to pick on them.

    Could you imagine if he did this to the police or firefighters?

  • malison2

    I’m always complaining that Newsom never has any ideas about the hard questions. Maybe I should shut-up, since what’s he uttering is the typical
    scapegoating dribble.

    Ah so close to the governorship….yet so far away. Just keep practicing those Union busting techniques it works all time time.

    Our society constantly attacks working people. We are manipulated into jealousy, it is no surprise the middle-class keeps getting squeeze.

  • Gabriela

    People fail to realize that driving the bus is very unpleasant to begin with. Newson, and muni management feed public with only the information that they want them to know. Does Newson realize if the drivers strike, how it would disable the city and cost more money and lost revenue to our local businesses and tourist attractions. If anything, the city needs to take care of the drivers and stop cutting their wages and benefits.

  • Mario Tanev

    Gabriela,

    Muni operators will get an automatic raise this year that will amount to $8 million. The proposal presented to the union would have neutralized the raise (which is mandated by the city charter), by requiring members to perform a one-time contribution to their pension account in lieu of the SFMTA. So the issue is not about cutting wages and benefits. It is about NOT raising them in the time of fiscal crisis. The union rejected the agreement, which means that either it was poorly crafted, or that members actually believe they deserve a raise in a time of fiscal crisis. If it is the latter, I don’t think many riders would agree with them.

  • Kev

    I criticized Newsom earlier for treating the Muni union with kid gloves and kowtowing to their will for fear of appearing soft on labor. I applaud his decision to finally grab a shovel after the Muni union practically finished digging their own grave by themselves, be it with their disorganization, dwindling concept of reality, or simple selfishness.

    It was his effort that stopped this ballot initiative that would set their wages up for collective bargaining from appearing in the first place. He wouldn’t have expelled that effort if he didn’t have NEAR-guarantees that the union would be reasonable and meet these concessions.

    He got embarrassed by placing his trust in Muni operators and their union being reasonable and finally decided enough is enough.

    No one is suggesting that driving a bus is easy in San Francisco – driving a car with no passengers can be stressful enough. I can imagine it is very taxing and requires a TREMENDOUS amount of patience to navigate the streets while also interfacing with the public. That’s not the issue here. But that’s the job they signed up for. No one forced them to apply and drive busses and light-rail vehicles. There are PLENTY of tough jobs out there where the employees must make reasonable concessions.

    Muni drivers simply have NO INCENTIVE WHATSOEVER to negotiate since they are guaranteed an aggregate of the top two salaries nation-wide. Mayor Newsom would have loved to keep that arrangement if only the union would be reasonable in finding other ways to help alleviate the budget burden. The union proved they are unwilling or unable to be reasonable. The union forced this decision to be made, for anyone to state anything else is simply turning a blind eye to the facts.

    Pro-Union and Pro-Greed are two very different things. I support unionization but I do not support greed.

  • Alex

    Concessions from the TWU are but a piece of the budget puzzle. It’s nice to see someone stand up to the TWU. It would be nicer to see someone do it with some sense of sincerity. It’s a shame Newsom is on the wrong side of extending parking meter hours, and simply silent on the issues of increasing the efficiency of MUNI and executive compensation.

  • Gavin is running for Lt. Governor. Everything he does and says in the next six months or so will be calculated not based on its local impact but instead based upon how well it will play in the statewide media.

  • @SFResident – He’s been running for another office since the day he first walked into the Mayor’s office. Nothing he does is for the benefit of the city as whole, but only his political ambition and the downtown business interest.

    I’m torn on this whole situation. I don’t think that salary for a union should be put into the charter and taken off the bargaining table. However, but I think Nick is right – Newsom would NEVER say anything close to this about the Police and Fire Unions. Those two unions are robbing the city blind, but the city always finds money for them (i.e. charging MUNI for services not rendered).

    I also agree with malison2 that this society has been manipulated into jealousy. Hate what your peers have, but don’t direct your anger upward at 1% hoarding all the wealth.

  • @mike – Yeah, look at the list of “highest salaries in the city” that the chron published earlier this year. 80% of the folk on that list are SFPD and SFFD employees. With a cursory glance I could only identify 1 MTA employee – Nat Ford.

    I guess it’s politically easier to hate on the bus drivers making 70,000 a year than it is the “American Heroes” in the PD and FD making 250,000. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to hate on all of these groups than it is the bankers and brokers who caused the damn budget problem in the first place.

  • Gabriela

    Let me just all inform you about the whole situation. First of all, muni drivers suppose to receive an increase in wages last year but the drivers rejected it, saying they want to help the city with the budget. Second, it is not one time contribution to their pension, the contribution is every 2 weeks in the amount of $200 each time. I agree there are many drivers who don’t care about the public but not all of them are like that. Newsom is only talking garbage but he doesn’t take a pay cut, or any other muni management. Believe me, drivers know that changes will be made, but they don’t want to be screwed over each time. Unless Newsom signs the proposal before any voting, it won’t happen.

  • Jared

    Drivers don’t care about the “public”…drivers are the public. But then again you called working class people “greedy” (Gosh when will the working class take their boot heels of our collective necks and let this recession finally end…?) so I guess mincing your choice of words is sort of a useless exercise in the long run.

  • Russell Stanton

    Just so you know, the transport workers union TWU 250-A has always done it’s part when there has been a fiscal emergency. Just a few years ago TWU 250-A agreed to take furlough days to help close a budget deficit, only to have the MTA mysteriously find 45 million dollars that they didn’t know they had, shortly afterward. Then, to add insult to injury, Mayor Newsome and his top dept. heads ALL GOT RAISES!

    Also, you wouldn’t know this because the media and MUNI mgt. have never mentioned it, but TWU 250-A is already CURRENTLY in an 18 month wage freeze that is set to end this June 30th, which is why they are getting their raise then. All other MUNI depts. have already received theirs. I guess the media acknowledging this fact would not play into their game plan of portraying MUNI operators as greedy, selfish, rude, Senior citizen robbing assholes who should do as they are told and just be happy that they have a job.