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

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."

  • Nick

    Has any politician in the history of San Francisco ever been a champion of an actual transit cause?

    They’ve dug in the trenches over operator pay while ignoring every other possible way to improve service. Politicians are simple minded. They’ll only focus on one issue at a time. As the months go by, other solutions are further delayed.

  • Brandon

    If BART is Bart Simpson, can we rename Muni “Nelson”?

    Ha Ha!

  • My GOD this guy is such a liar! Gavin Newsom is congentially incapable of dealing with Muni issues in a rational manner, nor is he able to tell the truth. I mean, to attack Elsbernd’s mild measure which has NO DIRECT EFFECT ON F*CKING DRIVER F*CKING PAY but instead makes the mere suggestion that we do collective bargaining like we do with EVERY OTHER UNION? Seriously, Gavin, just shut the fuck up. Your time is over, you’re yesterday’s news, and your legacy is that of many many press conferences but of doing nothing of substance, aside from that event in 2007.

  • mike

    Go Elsbernd! This city needs more level headed folks like this.

  • Wait, publishing proposed changes to a city contract is considered “pressure”? So doing business in a back room is the standard procedure? Sounds like we need another charter amendment to required all proposed city contracts, MOUs and amendments be immediately made available on

  • david vartanoff

    first if Green Gavin would just find the rock and climb back under.

    as to a re vote, NO. TWU has given riders the finger. Time for riders to respond at the ballot box. For years TWU got giveaway deals vis political maneuvers rather than herd bargaining. What’s sauce for the goose…

  • The Elsbernd measure is a longer term solution but it’s not a comprehensive solution. This whole debate is being framed as an issue of “greedy drivers” vs. “taxpayers.” When I was approached by one of the signature gatherers near Castro station a few days ago the measure was sold to me as a way to “fix MUNI” by cutting “bloated salaries” (no mention was made of work orders, the real culprit).

    That’s not productive when labor costs are only a part, albeit a significant part, of the problem. My worry is that we’ll pass the Elsbernd amendment and politicians will toast champagne, pat themselves on the back, and make speeches about how great things are now that they have “fixed MUNI.” Then we’ll ignore work orders, stop consolidation, unsustainable capital expansions (central subway), bloated management salaries, and shaky revenue streams. We need real MUNI reform and I wish that the jerks at city hall would put aside their niche political battles and just do what needs to be done.

  • In the first paragraph I meant to write “work rule” not “work order” (though they are both serious issues – it’s the union work rules that the Elsbernd amendment will help to alleviate).

  • Sean H

    I’d like a leaflet to give to every operator on the buses I ride, to ‘educate’ them on the concessions.

    If you see it their way, “Ok, a vote is coming up that takes some money away from me and makes it harder to ‘call in sick’.” Of course no!

    Part-time drivers will make commute service additions MUCH easier and cheaper. If service is increased, there will always be a need for MORE drivers in the future.

  • Moley


    The work orders thing is largely a red herring. Sure it’s a transfer of budgetary dollars out of Muni and to other SF departments.

    But as a SF taxpayer who has to fund the entire City, it’s a wash. What I gain on the swings, I lose on the roundabouts.

    And yes, this is a matter of SF taxpayers against Muni staff. Or as I prefer to think about it, a matter of Muni service cuts versus ensuring that the Muni staff never have to make a concession.

    If it were up to me, I’d fire all Muni staff and start over. You should take this amendment as the lessor of two evils. Muni cannot be fixed or saved. It is flawed at all levels.

  • Moley, the eternal optimist!

    And work orders are not a wash. New funding was created for MUNI, SFPD raided it, gave bigger pensions and stays off the political radar.

  • Moley


    Yeah, maybe SFPD stole Muni’s money. Maybe they didn’t. Probably depends on whether you are a Muni fan or a public safety fan.

    But as a SF resident that has to fund both, it’s a wash.

    What we need is not a policy or strategy that pits one City department against another in some beggar-thy-neighbor battle.

    But rather a City-wide strategy on how to solve the huge deficit we have across all departments.

    The city is broke and nobody has a solution. Let’s start with that and come up with a wholistic solution.

  • Moley, you aren’t listening (and I’m not surprised). This isn’t public safety vs public transport. Get off the Fox News, black/white bullshit for a minute.

    MUNI was given more funds (this means more into the MTA to run MUNI), the SFPD then in turn upped their work orders (same amount of work now for more money). Also, during this time, the SFPD has been known to give raises and promotions right before retirement to increase pension pay out. Since they have new funding via MUNI they are able to do this under the radar because their budget is still getting balanced.

    If you are making this a public safety issue, you should be pissed that the money wasn’t used for more boots on the ground.

  • Will Johnson

    Operator’s are resigned to the idea of going to “collective bargaining”. Elsbernd and others have been threatening us with that for some time now.

    The Mayor and various anti-muni operator activists have totally botched any chance of negotiating with Muni operators. Instead of appealing to operators for help, they’ve been threatening and attempting to strong arm and force concessions, (while at the same time cutting our work hours).

    Resentment of the Mayor’s and the MTA’s tactic’s is high among operators. And theres a general sense that ultimately, since the Mayor and the MTA and Sean Elsbernd picked this fight, we must begin our impending collective bargaining negotiations now, by rejecting earlly concessions.

    As for stepping up to help the Mayor bailout the MTA, (anyone who has tracked news reports of the alleged MTA defecit knows that the MTA’s alibi’s and budget numbers don’t add up), the Mayor and the MTA are not trusted by the membership of TWU.

    Combine this with the Mayor’s threats and the media’s constant persecution of operator’s and you might begin to understand why we oppose an operator funded MTA bailout.

    Yet, there is a deeper problem with the memberships distrust of the Mayor and the MTA and even the executive board of TWU Local 250A.

    The last proposal summary, (with which we were expected to make an intelligent up or down vote) was a suspicious list of vagaries that the membership has since found concealed major changes to its M.O.U. with the MTA. And, TWU”s executive board endorsed it!

    Thus for now, its the obligation of the rank and file of TWU to stand together and oppose its own executive leadership. And to resist the onslaught of attacks by the Mayor, the Media, the MTA and their corporate bosses within the San Francisco business community.

  • I was happy to come across a lady sporting both the Fix Muni Now petition AND the Pension Reform petition yesterday …. They both represent Good Governmaent charter moves and Fix Muni folks should be leveraged to get signatures on both. Young people are being left holding the bag, losing teachers, facing increased taxes and fees, and watching their opportunities shrink as long as these unsustainable retirement setups are maintained while salaries for public employees in general have surpassed private sector pay. The awesome retirement benefits were set up,when public employees were paid less than the private sector …. Now it it all FUBAR, robbing kids of their futures to give baby boomers a cushy retirement.

  •’s top 11 reasons to support can shove it. Regardless how you feel about the prop, as a transit first advocate I feel everyone should be taken aback. Let’s see here:

    #2. I’m not looking forward to $100 parking meter tickets or feeding a parking meter Sunday night at 10PM.

    #3. … when we can’t even afford to pave our streets and fill potholes.

    Actually, assholes, the parking meter hour extensions will help the local businesses. They are doing our cause a HUGE disservice by continuing to frame this as just “another tax on the working class.” Way to dig the trench a bit deeper.

    #9. … we need to fund important priorities: education, schools, basic city services such as police, fire and infrastructure…

    #11. When police officers are earning more than our President, enough is enough.

    And those two just completely contradict one another. We need more service like police, but the police make too much money. Blah Blah Blah.

    I signed it because I believe that they should pay into their pension and hopefully this can stop the PD from giving raises and promotions right before retirement to milk the system, but San Franciscans for SMART Reform can shove it.

  • marcos

    @Will: “The Mayor and various anti-muni operator activists have totally botched any chance of negotiating with Muni operators. Instead of appealing to operators for help, they’ve been threatening and attempting to strong arm and force concessions, (while at the same time cutting our work hours).”

    Will, that is simply not the case. Progressives have extended a hand to TWU and asked how we can work together, yet the TWU has acted like a zombie union unable to articulate a path towards common ground.

    The TWU’s worst enemy right now is the TWU, and that is going to result in the TWU isolating itself politically, a terrible place for it to situate itself.


  • Alex

    @Will: What on earth makes you guys think you’re above collective bargaining?


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