Blame, Calls for Revote and Contract Details in Wake of Muni Drivers Vote

IMG_0119.jpgEveryone seems to get some say over the SFMTA -- except, perhaps, Muni riders. Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Mayor, and the Board of Superviors have greatly upped the pressure on Muni operators for a revote -- as well as on each other over the SFMTA's budget -- following the operators' vote to reject a concessions package last Friday.

Placing some of the blame for last Friday's rejection vote on a lack of education about the concessions, SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford announced today that Muni would be "sunshining," or making public, the proposed changes to the operators' contract [PDF], which had previously been kept under wraps.

There aren't any surprises: the bulk of the $18.7 million saved over two years would come from allowing the agency to hire 190 part-time operators and requiring operators to work at least 40 hours in a week before they begin to accrue overtime pay. The agency would see some minor savings from a switch in the operators' health plan to the citywide plan as well.

When the operators rejected another concessions package in February, Streetsblog reported that many of the operators felt they needed more information about the agreement, and Ford said that was an issue this time, too. "[T]here may be additional work that needs to be done in terms of education of what the components of this agreement actually mean as it relates to their compensation, their pensions, their health care benefits, things of that nature," he told the SFMTA Board today.

Ford and Mayor Newsom have called on the members of the operators union, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A (TWU), to revote on the concessions, a mantra they repeated early this week.

"[The operators] deserve to be embraced and respected, and I want to embrace and respect them, but you actually have to earn that, and the way you earn that right now is to do the right thing," the Mayor said at a press conference yesterday on his upcoming visit to China. "They have the chance to do the right thing, and I think that the fact that they're getting one more chance is significant and I'm hopeful."

Acting TWU President Rafael Cabrera told the SFMTA Board today that the sunshining of the contract comes as a surprise.

"I'm kind of shocked to hear that the [operators] contract is going to be sunshined," said Cabrera. "I mean, the members voted it down, they rejected any type of concession there is."

Cabrera also added that no one from the SFMTA or the Mayor's office has contacted him yet about a revote. "Nobody has contacted me personally for me to say yes," he said. "The matter of the fact is it was rejected by the membership and that stays as is."

Mayor Blames Supervisors

The Mayor and the Board of Supervisors traded shots over why the operators rejected the concessions agreement, which would have saved the SFMTA $18.7 million over two years -- money that Muni said it would use to reverse a recent ten-percent service cut partially by September 4 and fully by next summer. Yesterday, the Mayor suggested some of the blame rests with the four supervisors who introduced a sweeping Muni reform measure that would give the SFMTA a $40 million allotment from the city's general fund.

"I think the board, in their desire to show 'leadership', actually hurt our efforts at TWU by saying, 'We're going to bail you out with $40 million of city money,'" the Mayor said. "If you're Muni drivers, and you just heard the board say, 'Hey, don't worry, we're going to send $40 million over to your agency of city money,' it kind of makes you feel like you're off the hook, doesn't it?"

But Board of Supervisors President David Chiu rejected that idea, and said the allotment measure and the TWU vote should be complementary solutions.

"The suggestion that proposing more revenue for the MTA lets TWU off the hook is absurd: everyone knows Muni needs more revenue, and everyone knows that TWU needs to step up like every other union during this economic crisis," Chiu wrote in an email to Streetsblog. "Muni riders deserve better than the ongoing blame game. We must continue to make clear to TWU that they must give back, while also reminding the Mayor and MTA management that the unprecedented service cuts cannot stand."

With the operators' vote, the SFMTA's recently-approved two-year budget, which continues service cuts from last May, is back on a collision course with the supervisors, who have threatened to reject any budget that doesn't restore service.

But while the progressive bloc on the board is lined up against a budget that includes service cuts, some of the four supervisors who sponsored the wide-ranging Muni reform measure are less enthusiastic about the $40 million allotment, since it would take money from the general fund.

The Mayor isn't a fan of other aspects of the supervisors' reform measure either, but perhaps more surprisingly, he also criticized a ballot measure supported by one of his allies on the Board of Supervisors, Sean Elsbernd. That measure would set Muni operator pay through collective bargaining, removing language from the City Charter that guarantees them the second-highest pay for transit operators in the country among large transit agencies.

Newsom said the Elsbernd and SPUR measure, which Muni operators have called an attack on them, combined with the $40 million allotment, "created conditions to make this more difficult to get to where we need to go."

Elsbernd is still collecting signatures to put the measure on the November ballot, and defended it as a longer-term solution than the two-year concessions package.

"Whether or not they voted for it or they didn't, we were going to keep collecting signatures to try to qualify," he said. "If anything, I think it's made it a tad bit easier to collect those last few signatures. I wish I could say I understood it. I really don't."

Asked whether his measure jeopardized the concessions vote, Elsbernd responded: "The Mayor may be concerned about this year. I'm concerned about the next 20 years."