Tentative Labor Agreement May Reverse Muni Service Cuts

IMG_2191_1.jpgPhoto: Michael Rhodes

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has reached a tentative agreement with six of its employee unions, including the Muni operators union, that would save the agency $18.7 million over two years and allow it, by September 4, to restore over half the service it cut earlier this month.

The agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the members of six separate unions, would likely mean a full service restoration on Muni by July of next year.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford announced the deal this afternoon,
just a day after San Francisco police and firefighter union officials agreed to bring concession deals before their members for approval. Muni operators had rejected a concession deal in February by a 857-575 vote, but concession agreements from other unions will put extra pressure on the Muni operators to approve the deal, Newsom said, as will the recent service cuts.

"They know they’ll be recognized and rewarded" if they approve the package, he said.

Ford said that with the $7 million the Board of Supervisors–which acts as the board of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (TA)–has agreed to send to the SFMTA with conditions, the concessions deal could allow the agency to undo 55 percent of the service it cut on May 8, with a gradual ramping-up of service until it’s back to pre-cut levels by July 2011.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who chairs the TA, welcomed news of the agreement. "I think that was exactly the direction we hoped they would go," he said. As for whether the TA will now send the SFMTA $7 million for next year, Mirkarimi said, "it’s not automatic, but it certainly helps advance the cause. We’ll have to process this but my forecast is that it will likely prevail."

As for the Board of Supervisors’ vote on the SFMTA’s two-year budget, Mirkarimi added, "we must keep in mind that this is a one-time fix and it doesn’t remedy the chronic problems that are still very much on our minds."

Ford credited union officials for their commitment to working on the deal, and said it could mean ultimately increasing service above pre-cut levels, guided by Transit Effectiveness Project data.

Neither Ford nor the Mayor would discuss details of the plan, which involves all of the SFMTA’s public employee unions. But Bob Muscat, director of Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 21, and a key negotiator on the agreement, said all of the unions would hold votes on it within the next 10 days, including Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators, SEIU "service critical" employees, which include PCOs and station agents, and TWU Local 200.

Muni operator wage rates are guaranteed in the city charter, and were set to increase by almost $9 million on July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.

Through concessions from all six unions involved, the new deal would save the SFMTA $9 million in the first year and $9.7 million in the second year, and would all but assure that no Muni operators will be laid off.

Last February, the SFMTA Board voted to cut overall service frequencies by 10 percent to cover a mid-year budget deficit, and subsequently voted to extend the cuts into the next fiscal year, and restore half that service in the fiscal year following that, since it’s anticipating an uptick in revenue if the economy continues to improve. It will cost the agency about $15 million to fully restore service in fiscal year 2012, which starts on July 1, 2011, and somewhat less to partially roll back the cuts in fiscal year 2011.

"Riders should recognize" the sacrifice from drivers "and thank them" if they approve it, the Mayor said.

  • Nick

    Does this mean that the Muni ballot measure is going to be withdrawn? Am I mistaken, or wasn’t it said to be conditional upon concessions from TWU? Are MUNi drivers “giving a little” now in order to continue to get a lot later? Not bad strategy if they are.

  • marcos

    I doubt that the governance reforms will be withdrawn.

    Elsbernd is using his amendment for political organizing purposes, capitalizing on Newsom’s Muni in disarray to collect tens of thousands of signatures for future campaigns. If it makes Muni run better, it will be all by coincidence.


  • Sandy

    Service cuts happened in a second, but restoring service will take UNTIL JULY 2011?!?!?! -That screams “big fat non-transparent management bureaucracy!” We all repeatedly read about the cost of drivers – where’s the reporting on the cost of, layers of, management? That’s anger + an actual question – where can I find details on the management structure and work responsibility of Muni mgmt?

  • Brandon

    How many drivers per passenger are there in Muni vs transit services in Boston, Chicago, and New York? How much gas is burned per passenger in these systems? What is the average speed of these systems?

    Muni would have less of a problem with driver pay if it had more efficient vehicles and less drivers.

  • marcos

    Some of us were discussing that there should be service standards for surface Muni that were evaluated against the average of the top two speediest surface transit systems elsewhere, similar to the current formula for operator pay.

    50% of Muni’s fleet is fueled by Hetch Hetchy hydro power, electric traction, the enviro damage done all at once 85 years ago.

    Let’s face it, operating on the surface is grossly inefficient. BRT only incrementally increases that efficiency, and that is a challenge in San Francisco due to cross traffic and the meetings of the disparate grids.

    The 15-Third was replaced with the T-Third, which is closer to BRT than we’ll ever see in Geary or Van Ness, yet it runs slower than Christmas, even at night with little contention.

    For truly reliable transit, we’re going to need to bite the bullet and grow up and conjure up the political will to build a network of subways that obviate cross traffic and the grids to deliver real speed increases and efficiencies.


  • marc, I disagree. The central subway will service no one at a huge cost mostly to appease the need to continue to worship car driving in a dense urban environment.

    The T-third is a joke and shouldn’t be used to argue for underground transit.

  • marcos

    @mikesonn, the Central Subway has gone from bad to worse because it has been value engineered so that it is not extensible for projected increased ridership. It was only justifiable if it was an anchor for the four corridor plan and could handle greater loads into the future.

    But the Central Subway is not what I was referring to. We need to be getting people across town in modes that can effectively compete with private autos. Surface transit in a city as densely populated as SF can never ever do that. The savings on BRT from 48th Ave to Montgomery is 8 minutes on a 50 minute trip. That is nice and all, from an accounting perspective, but it is not going to be enough to tip the balance on many marginal choices.

    BRT is also a tool that is more prevalently used as a cheap person’s commuter rail, where it tends to run more freely in the suburbs and then more constricted in the urban core. The proposed Van Ness BRT is a victim of this, as the transfers are just too close together to achieve any speed win. Why would Geary lose its BRT in the TL under current plans?

    But the NYC subway’s 4 track mainlines have effectively been the only comprehensive, competitive solution to dealing with many close stops and still winning speed gains over the longer haul.

    I’m talking a Van Ness, Geary and M-Oceanview subways for starters, with the Central Subway getting an extra few hundred million dollars to ensure that tracks are long enough to be able to serve both high to low floor vehicles over time as well as a coherent connection with the Market Street subway. “Saving” money by shortening stations and failing to connect with existing subways is like “saving” money by cutting maintenance on vehicles and guidewya.

    Subways are it. Anything less means that the terrorists win.


  • Ha, the terrorists have already won. But yeah, I get what you are saying. But a bad CS will only speed the slow death that is MUNI. Not that BART is the answer, but the Geary BART line extension floated so many years ago should have been realized. Putting MUNI’s current LRV system underground isn’t going to fly.

  • marcos

    “Putting MUNI’s current LRV system underground isn’t going to fly.”

    Depends what you mean by fly. The current nonkosher Metro that mixes surface with subway is unclean. It only flies when underground, average speeds approaching 30mph. On surface, it barely gets to 20mph.

    We need to get a handle around the fact that faster transit requires more expensive infrastructure and costs more per vehicle mile than slower transit and devise funding schemes that distribute those costs equitably.

    Otherwise, agreed, adding more slow nonkosher LRV only digs us deeper into a hole. The proposed comprehensive MTA reform Charter Amendment hopefully will serve as a well thought out stake in the ground that provides the basis for the kind of political confidence that will be needed to put the system on a sustainable footing.

    It is always difficult to dig yourself out of a hole when others keep shoveling soil onto you.


  • I guess fly wasn’t the correct word to use, but fits in that context.

    Yes, it does approach 30mph, but that is when it is running. There are so many service issues that is hard to believe the average speed is anywhere near that high.

    But I think overall we agree and yes we need to spend much more on infrastructure but with everything we currently use for transportation (bridges, highways, rails) all falling apart – it is going to be a tough sell.

  • marcos

    Let’s not self censor our aspirations and negotiate ourselves down first, let’s demand the impossible so that the bounds of the attainable are pushed out as far as we can push them.


  • Inspiring!

  • marcos

    There is little “leavening” in progressive (term used in its loosest connotation) politics, with advocates pressed so closely to staff that there is no daylight between.

    Thus, more than half of the time advocates end up testifying for staff’s half baked ideas rather than trying to push the envelope and bring staff along. Much of this is due to staff’s predicating access upon cooperation and the need for advocates to remain in a game fueled by access.

    Cities cannot thrive to face challenges on political matzoh alone. Our transit system is flailing, we’re a decade behind on bicycle projects, and the affordable housing mafiosi pushes development plans that throw more soil in we who are trying to dig out of the hole so that they get a few crumbs in fees.


  • Alex

    @marcos You’re dreaming if you think that the LRVs fly underground. The problem is NOT in bringing surface traffic underground. A big problem is that the underground infrastructure is a joke.

    Want three car trains like they used to do in the 80s? Nope. No can do, despite the fact that all of the stations can fit at least three cars at their platforms.

    Want to do short runs? Good luck with that. The MMT cost how many hundreds of millions of dollars? And the Embarcadero station is still a HUGE bottleneck?

    No, the problem is not so much surface vs subway (and in fact, if it were, why is the 38L comparable in speed to the L?), and it’s certainly not infrastructure spending (if it were an issue of spending, we’d already have a great subway). The problem is that nobody at the MTA knows their head from their ass. This is demonstrated all too explicitly with awful projects like the central subway. One car trains every ten minutes? That’s NOT an improvement over surface service with plentiful articulated buses. In fact, I’d venture to guess that simply removing automobile traffic from the Stockton tunnel would do more to improve service than building the CS.

  • Muni flies when underground. Man, I want some of what you’re smoking.

    In other news, the Zürich Verkerhsverbund (unified regional transportation planning and integrated fare and timetable association) and the Zürich S-Bahn (regional rail system) just marked their 20th anniversary of unmitigated, year-upon-year success.

    Of interest is that the plans grew out of voter rejection of a costly and stupid plan to put trams out of sight and out of mind, give the city streets over to cars, and build an underground metro system. Instead competent and professional engineers (the sort Muni never has and never will employ) and enlightened politicians came back with a plan (really a series of plans, each building on the other) that built a short, strategic section of new railway tunnel, integrated (“One ticket for everything” — and done with tickets printed on paper) the timetables and fares of all of the dozens of different transit providers in the region, and systematically prioritized surface-running transit (buses and trams) on streets and at intersections.

    The result is today 1.6 million boardings a day on a system with 377 transit routes (28 regional rail, 13 tram lines, 7 ferries, lots of buses), relentless yearly increases in ridership, geographical expansion of the network, emulation around the world, and repeated voter approval of cost effective, incremental and strategic capital plans.

    And still all the trams and buses run on the narrow, sometimes medieval streets, and all the tickets are printed on paper. Clearly those stupid foreigners have a lot still to learn about transportation planning from the San Francisco MTA and the Bay Area MTC.

  • Alex, the Stockton Tunnel itself isn’t the 30/45 bottleneck and never has been.

    It’s private automobiles and it’s congestion caused by inadequate provision for delivery trucks on Stockton between the tunnel and Columbus.

    It’s possible to fix those issues, readily and almost overnight, while simultaneously transforming the dire pedestrian environment of Stockton’s sidewalks. (The solution, due to Michael Kiesling, is massively widened sidewalks, and two bus lanes flanking a central lane dedicated solely to delivery trucks. And if you have to to seal the deal, build some “mitigating” parking garages nearby; chump change from the couple billion dollars saved.)

    But who would that profit?


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