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Muni Operators Vote to Reject Concessions Proposal

Muni drivers rejected a concessions proposal today that would have saved dozens of operator jobs while reducing Muni service cuts and fare increases.

Members of the Transport Workers Union Local 250A voted down the proposal negotiated between TWU President Irwin Lum, MTA management, and the Mayor. Had the operators accepted the proposal, it would have saved the cash-strapped MTA nearly $15 million over two years, according to an MTA memo (PDF) outlining the plan.

MTA spokesperson Judson True confirmed the proposal was rejected, but didn't have further comment on the matter tonight. Sources told Streetsblog the proposal was rejected by a 857-575 vote. MTA Executive Director Nat Ford confirmed the number to the Chronicle.

Lum said that many of the union members were concerned that the concessions were too high a price to pay without a guarantee from the MTA against future layoffs, service cuts and fare hikes.

"Our members were concerned that this would have drastically affected seniors, disabled and youth, and even with this ratification, [increased prices for] Fast Passes for them would have been postponed but not totally avoided in the future. So, there was not a guarantee." said Lum. "The other main thing making it unfair is to commit to a proposal that would still reduce service and increase fares."

"They felt that any agreement in the future would necessitate some kind of commitment to prevent layoff of our members," he added. "We're talking about millions of dollars of givebacks. There has to be some kind of line drawn somewhere. It just can't be a vague, open-ended agreement that things could still happen, in terms of layoffs, in terms of service cuts, and the whole issue of fare increases for seniors, disabled and youth."

Even before negotiations began, the MTA had planned on savings from operator concessions to help balance a $16.9 million end-of-year budget shortfall. Now, the MTA will need to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to replace the anticipated savings from the concessions, all before a February 26 vote by the agency's Board.

It originally appeared the MTA might save about $2 million this fiscal year through the concessions, which could have been used to prevent the senior/disabled/student Fast Pass rate from jumping from $20 to $30, and might also have mitigated proposed Muni service cuts. Instead, the MTA's budget hole is even worse than expected, by $700,000 through the end of this fiscal year. That could mean harsher service cuts or more fare increases on top of what's currently proposed.

The biggest chunk of the $15 million in savings would have been from operators making a one-time contribution to their retirement fund in the next fiscal year. That would have netted $8.9 million, on top of temporary reforms to overtime pay that would have saved $0.54 million this year and $3.25 million next year, health benefit concessions that would have saved $1.3 million this year, and changes to other benefits that would have netted $0.11 million this year and $0.65 next year.

On the bright side for the MTA, a windfall of federal stimulus funds originally directed towards the BART Oakland Airport Connector has been diverted to other local transit agencies, and could help close the budget gap. According to True, of the $17.5 million Muni would receive, $4.3 million will go to preventive maintenance, essentially operating expenses.

For operators, the concessions proposal would have meant fewer layoffs - perhaps saving as much as a third of the 170 positions set to be eliminated as part of the Muni service cut plan.

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