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Posts from the Sean Elsbernd Category


Growing Movement To Save Caltrain From Potentially Devastating Cuts

Flickr Photo: ## Fisher##

Flickr Photo: Nick Fisher

The mobility of Caltrain’s 40,000 daily riders on the Peninsula and the South Bay could drastically suffer under deep service cuts being considered to close a $30 million budget gap, but a movement to get the commuter rail service agency out of the red and on a path toward long-term sustainability is gaining momentum.

“Everyone says it’s ironic, because it really is one of the best performing transit agencies in the whole Bay Area, but it’s the one potentially in the most trouble because we lack any dedicated funding,” said Yoriko Kishimoto, a Palo Alto councilmember and Friends of Caltrain organizer.

Last Friday, a summit brought together a number of transportation officials, advocates, neighborhood groups, riders and public officials hoping to rescue Caltrain. This Saturday, Friends of Caltrain, a “grassroots coalition of cities, neighborhood groups, employers, environmental groups, transit advocates and, most importantly, residents and transit riders” in the Bay Area, are helping to organize the “Save Our Caltrain!” Summit to address the agency’s lack of dedicated regional funding.

“Caltrain is threatened with bankruptcy, or just as bad, it could die a slow death by entering a downward spiral of reduced service and reduced ridership,” said Kishimoto. “Caltrain ridership is the equivalent of at least three full lanes of traffic on US 101…[It] is essential to the Peninsula’s quality of life, our commute alternatives, and economic vitality and the three counties must come together to work on solutions.”

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Elsbernd Muni Reform Measure Has Money and Signatures to Spare

Supervisor Elsbernd displays his abundance of signatures.Supervisor Elsbernd displays his abundance of signatures. Photo: Matt Baume.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd triumphantly delivered eighteen Bankers Boxes full of signatures to the Department of Elections on Thursday, signifying the successful completion of the first phase of a Muni reform campaign that many had claimed was politically impossible.

Elsbernd's drop-off date was no coincidence: on the same day, he pointed out, Muni operators received a 5.5 percent pay raise, costing the city about $9 million. Elsbernd's legislation would enable the city to set operator wages though collective bargaining, rather than through an averaging of the country's top-paying transit systems.

The Elsbernd/SPUR measure will compete with a measure introduced in May by Supervisors Chiu, Campos, Mar, and Mirkarimi. While both measures would eliminate the automatic pay hikes for operators, Elsbernd's would also eliminate "side-letter" agreements that, an audit recently showed, cost the city millions.

In addition, the Chiu/Campos/Mar/Mirkarimi measure would allow the Board of Supervisors to appoint members to the MTA board, a power currently reserved exclusively for the Mayor. It would also allow the Supervisors to veto Muni service reductions.

Comparing the two measures, Elsbernd said, "one is about empowering the Board of Supervisors," while his "is about empowering riders of Muni."


Common Ground and Key Differences in Two Muni Operator Pay Measures

IMG_1801.jpgSPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf gathers signatures for Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's ballot measure. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Depending on how you count it, the sweeping Muni ballot measure that four members of the Board of Supervisors introduced earlier this week has at least six major components, ranging from the governance of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to how Muni operator wages are set.

That last piece is similar -- not identical -- to a measure that Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association (SPUR) already hope to put on the ballot, and those key details are splitting the sponsors of the rival measures.

At the heart of Elsbernd's ballot measure and the corresponding piece of the separate ballot measure introduced this week is a change to the way Muni operator salaries are set. For now, the city charter requires their salaries and benefits to be set through a "salary survey" of the nation's other transit agencies "in comparable jurisdictions," with Muni operators getting paid the average of the "two highest wage schedules for transit operators."

Both Elsbernd's measure and the new measure would do away with that practice, instead setting the salaries through a collective bargaining process -- much the same as nearly any other city employee union.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi included that provision in their ballot measure despite initial wariness of Elsbernd's measure, since it would give SFMTA management leverage to renegotiate operator work rules that a recent audit found are costly and create problems for Muni service.

Both measures would also eliminate the transit operator trust fund and any city payments into it, and would make incentive bonuses for the SFMTA Director and "service critical" managers and employees optional instead of required. (Elsbernd and the Muni operators union sparred over the trust fund in February.)


SPUR Director: Muni Drivers Deserve Good Pay, But Work Rules Must Change

3836058223_c98984c86e.jpgFlickr photo: tehf0x
With Muni riders looking for somewhere to direct their frustration at potential service cuts and fare increases, and with the Mayor eager to frame the MTA's budget deficit as a choice between labor concessions and fare hikes, it's easy to view a proposed charter amendment that would change how Muni driver salaries are set as a shot at transit operators.

But SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf, who's drafting the amendment along with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, said the point isn't to scapegoat drivers, but to fix some of Muni's most persistent service problems, like the high rate of absenteeism that leads to frequent missed runs.

Operators, said Metcalf, have a hard job and deserve to be fairly compensated. For many drivers, the job is a hard-earned but solid path to the middle class. But by setting transit operator salaries automatically at the second-highest rate in the country, MTA management has removed any incentive for operators to allow revisions to work rules that hobble Muni performance, said Metcalf. A November ballot measure would revise the City Charter so salaries and benefits are set entirely through collective bargaining.

"We want to write a squeaky-clean good-government charter provision that does not go after any specific work rules, but rather sets up conditions for fair collective bargaining," Metcalf said. "It puts a lot of sunshine around it. Voters get to understand what is being negotiated. The hope is that, over time, labor and management can work out a better way to run Muni."

Metcalf insisted that the measure is not intended to be punitive against drivers. "Being a driver is a really hard job," he said. "In the end, what we've got to get to is a culture where people are happy to go to work and people feel taken care of and work hard and they get paid well for working hard."

"It is basically the same system virtually every other union and city government has," he added. "There is no way anyone in good faith can say that is anti-labor."


Elsbernd: Muni Operator Salary Ballot Measure is Back On

ShowImage.jpgSupervisor Sean Elsbernd. Photo courtesy the City of San Francisco.
With the Muni operators union rejecting a concessions proposal last night that would have helped the MTA balance its budget deficit, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said he now plans to bring back a ballot measure that would end the practice of setting Muni operator wages at the average of the two highest-paying transit agencies in the country.

Elsbernd originally introduced the ballot measure late last year, with hopes of bringing the proposal through the Rules Committee and Board of Supervisors. That plan was scuttled two weeks ago when the Mayor, deep in negotiations over a concessions plan with the operators union, asked Elsbernd to back off.

Asked whether the operators union vote to reject the concessions meant he'd bring the ballot measure back, Elsbernd eagerly affirmed. "The answer is an emphatic 'yes,'" Elsbernd wrote in an email to Streetsblog. "June is not possible, but I will certainly make every effort to get the proposal on the November ballot."

Elsbernd said he now plans to collect signatures for a petition campaign to get the measure on the November ballot. The plan received a cool response from union officials and fellow supervisors when Elsbernd introduced it on the Rules Committee last month. It was roundly opposed at the hearings by the Transport Workers Union, which represents Muni operators, as well as by representatives of the firefighters and hotel workers unions.

If the measure were to pass, it would amend the City Charter so that operator salary and benefit negotiations would occur entirely through the collective bargaining process. Since 1967, Muni operators have generally had their salaries set at the average of the two highest-paying transit agencies nationally, a practice that was formally enshrined in the City Charter with Proposition A in 2007.


Supes Committee Holds off on Muni Operator Wage Proposal

3999630049_d04db5406a.jpgAn operator in training. Flickr photo: Troy Holden
A proposed ballot measure that would change the way Muni operator salaries and benefits are set didn't appear to have much steam after a tense Rules Committee meeting on Thursday.

As the SF Appeal reported, the measure was roundly opposed by the Transit Workers Union, which represents Muni operators, as well as by representatives of the firefighters and hotel workers unions. They urged the measure's sponsor, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, to kill the proposal. Both Elsbernd and the other supervisors on the Rules Committee agreed the item should be continued for discussion at the committee's next meeting.

"It is my hope that in that next week TWU will attempt to sit down with me again," said Elsbernd. "Attempts have recently been rebuffed. We do have a tentative meeting scheduled on Monday."

Things frequently got testy between Elsbernd and union representatives, who said they were being unfairly targeted. In return, Elsbernd accused union representatives of avoiding scheduling meetings with him.

Elsbernd's proposed measure would remove a provision in the city charter that sets Muni operator base wages and benefits at the average of the two highest-paying transit systems in the country. Instead, wages would be decided entirely through a collective bargaining process, as most city employee wages are. Most recently, the base wage was set to $27.91 an hour in 2008, the average of wages at Montgomery County Transit in Maryland and at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

Muni operators start earning that wage after 19 months on the job. For the first 19 months, their wages gradually increase from a trainee rate of $17.58. That means a Muni operator who works 46 weeks in a year makes about $51,350 in annual base pay.

Most operators earn a significant amount of overtime and premium pay as well: the current MTA budget builds in premium and overtime pay that averages out to 30 percent of base pay per employee. The bulk of that comes from scheduled overtime. On average, that would add up to an annual income around $66,760.

Elsbernd also argued that removing the salary schedule from the charter would give the MTA's management more latitude to negotiate changes to work rules and reduce absenteeism. Supervisor Eric Mar, however, said he believes the legislation is a political move, not one designed to benefit transit riders. "Let me just say that I see this as a politically-motivated attack on the TWU and this is a measure that I don't think should be on the ballot," said Mar.


Supes Committee to Vote Tomorrow on Muni Operator Wage Proposal

27696461_5a9e33a7a4.jpgFlickr photo: Thomas Hawk.
A Board of Supervisors committee is set to vote on a proposed ballot initiative that would end a decades-old policy of guaranteeing Muni operators the second-highest transit operator wages in the country. The Rules Committee will take up the proposal at its 10 a.m. meeting tomorrow, after a week in which the proposal's sponsor, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, and Muni labor leaders met to hash out what such a ballot measure would look like.

The initiative comes amidst a worsening budget crisis, but the merits of such a measure may lie as much in its broader bargaining value as in its cost-savings potential. "The city really has no position, because if the salary is already set, what ability do we have to negotiate any changes to, say, work rules that we believe are outdated, work rules that we'd like to improve," asked Elsbernd at last week's Rules Committee meeting. "There is no incentive on the other side to give anything, because they already know what they're going to get as a salary."

Last month, SPUR head Gabriel Metcalf told the Chronicle he backs Elsbernd's proposal for just that reason. "It sets up the ability for management to bargain for work-rule changes in exchange for pay and benefits," Metcalf said.

With operator salaries comprising about $212 million of the MTA's $765 million budget, and with operators making up over 2,000 of the MTA's 4,600 employees (before a recent round of layoffs,) Elsbernd has argued that the MTA effectively has no leeway over a huge chunk of its budget. "We are shackled to the charter, shackled to whatever number comes out, and here we are listening to discussions of Muni fare increases, parking meter increases and of course, massive service reductions," he said.

Muni operators haven't been exempt from the budget pain: 170 operator positions may be on the chopping block as part of a huge set of service cuts the MTA Board is currently mulling over, part of a plan to cut Muni's annual service hours by a whopping ten percent.


Muni’s Safety Chief Defends Agency at Supes Hearing

3787192907_fe41678b50_2_.jpgNew Muni Chief Safety Officer Jim Dougherty, left, at the scene of the August 3rd historic streetcar crash. Photo: Bryan Goebel
Muni's new chief safety officer went before a Board of Supervisors committee today to explain what's being done to prevent crashes like the two major rail collisions that have happened in the last month. Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who chaired the hearing, said the crash at Market and Noe Streets on August 3rd, in which an SUV was crushed between two historic F-line streetcars, "could easily have been a fatal accident."

It was the second time this month that Muni officials have been publicly grilled on safety issues. The hearing covered much of the same ground as the August 4th MTA board meeting, but it included testimony from the driver of the Nissan Pathfinder that was crushed by the historic streetcars and a man who said he was chatting with the F-line driver several minutes before the crash.

It felt like being "crushed in a trash compactor," said Chris Ward, the driver of the SUV. "My life was involved and the life of my partner."

Ward said he has supported the F-line since its inception, but is disturbed that "there may have been some negligence involved" on the part of the operator. "We need to make sure that cutbacks and adjustments are made in a way that doesn't imperil the safety of the city," said Ward.


Supes Delay Action on Motion to Reject MTA Budget

avalos_today.jpgSupervisor Avalos on parking enforcement: "The more I think about how we need to do what's best for the environment and what's best for riders my position has changed."
The Board of Supervisors will try again on an MTA budget, voting 7-4 this afternoon to delay a motion to reject it. Instead, they'll hold a special meeting Wednesday, May 27th, at noon.

The delay, requested by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, came after Supervisor Sophie Maxwell indicated a change of heart on parking. Maxwell, considered a swing vote on the rejection motion, had previously indicated she was against adding Sunday and evening parking enforcement, measures Supervisor John Avalos, some of his colleagues and transit advocates have demanded be put back in the budget to more equitably balance it between drivers and Muni riders.

“I too have come to a different feeling about parking. I mean, I was one who said I don’t know about Sundays and I don’t know about 10 [p.m.] but I am reconsidering and I think a lot of other people could too, so I think it’s something that should really be put on the table.”

Maxwell asked MTA Chief Nat Ford how soon an MTA study on parking would take. As part of a "compromise" reached with Board President David Chiu last week, Ford agreed to study increasing parking enforcement downtown from 6 to 8 p.m. Advocates, however, have proposed that Ford's original plan to enforce parking until 10 p.m. be added back in.

“My concern is that without pressure maybe the discussion won’t happen because the parking issues are something that we need to look at and I want to look at it sooner rather than later," said Maxwell.

Ford indicated that more parking measures will be studied and brought before the MTA Board, especially in light of the fact that the agency is now facing an additional $13 million gap, due to the recent rejection of an SEIU contract and more state budget impacts.

While not giving a specific time line, Ford responded: “It will be something that we’re looking at very quickly.”  He had earlier indicated additional parking measures would not be added without consultation with the MTA Board and the Mayor's office, which is opposed to adding more parking revenue in the budget.