Mayor Newsom Slams Muni Union Leaders Again, Decries Work Rules

F_line_small.jpgPhoto: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography.

Keeping with his public recriminations of TWU Local 250-A, the union representing Muni operators, Mayor Gavin Newsom launched into a tirade today after a press conference, decrying the leadership of the union for "misleading" the rank-and-file. Newsom called the second rejection of wage concessions a mistake and said the entire workforce would be affected by the selfishness of a few at the top.

Newsom had been discussing the various concessions made by other public service unions with reporters when he volunteered his opinion on TWU: "These guys have no respect for reality," he said. "What they’re doing is thumbing
their nose in the face of every other public employee in this city that
has stepped up to preserve services and preserve jobs. They’re saying
no, we’re better than you, we’re special, we don’t need to do this."

Newsom said several members of TWU’s Executive Board should be ashamed
of themselves, "one in particular," who did "everything to undermine
this." He didn’t elaborate on which board member, however.

Rather than point fingers at the Board of Supervisors, as
he did last week
, or call for a re-vote in the union, Newsom seemed
resigned to let voters have their say in November, when a voter initiative to strip operator pay, benefits and work rules provisions from
the City Charter could be on the ballot. He urged every San Franciscan to sign the petition to qualify the measure and vowed it would pass with an overwhelming majority.

When Chronicle reporter Rachel Gordon asked the Mayor if he had signed the petition himself, he admitted he hadn’t. "I helped draft it," he said. "I say helped, meaning [Chief of Staff] Steve Kawa in my office was very
much involved with a deliberative process with the supervisor to make
sure that we were all on the same page in terms of what this initiative
called for."

As he got in to the specifics of the ballot measure and its impact, he said he was more concerned with work rules than he was about collective bargaining for salary.

"The collective bargaining component, to me, was always de minimus,
it wasn’t that important, because you can collectively bargain and
you’re gonna end up marking to market, which means you’re not going to
dramatically change the wage schedule," he said.

But by changing the work rules, the agency would be able to realize efficiencies that would save service and keep fares stable, he argued.

Despite the rhetoric, though, he didn’t provide specifics about if or when service would be restored, a fundamental concern of the Board of Supervisors and one that could preempt a drawn out battle over rejecting Muni’s budget. The supervisors have threatened to reject
any budget that doesn’t restore service

Had the operators accepted the wage concessions, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, would have saved $18.7 million over two years, which the SFMTA said
it would use
to reverse a recent ten-percent
service cut
in part by September 4 and in full by summer 2011.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, one of the primary authors of the ballot measure, has been out collecting
with an increasingly visible cadre of volunteers at BART stations and public events.

Elsbernd recently told Streetsblog they would collect signatures to qualify the measure regardless of any vote by the union.

Appointment of Board Members

On a different tack, Newsom admitted he was still struggling to find a second person to appoint to the SFMTA’s Board of Directors, which has been short two members since the end of April.

While he said he had chosen one member from the public who had applied to be on the board, he wasn’t having luck with candidates he had been targeting for appointment.

"I’m 0 for 2 with the two people that I wanted," he said. "One had a conflict that
we couldn’t deal with, one said they prefer their existing life and they
don’t want to actually do this. I’m still trying to find that final

When asked if he would consider appointing one member while searching for the last, to prevent further cancellations of Board Meetings for failure to attain quorum, Newsom said he would likely take that course of action and make that announcement shortly.

  • While work rule reform and having Muni operators do collective bargaining would help Muni run better, it is by no means a magic bullet, and this whole idea that we can blame all of Muni’s problems on “driver pay” is bullshit.

    He should know about many of muni’s budget problems – he and his staff created them. This kind of heated “Angry White Man” rhetoric, which makes him feel great, doesn’t help.

    Also love how he comes out for it as the signature deadline approaches, and tries to take all the credit. Loser.

  • Greg, it’s all part of the script. You can read Gavin like a book. We all knew this is how it was going to play out, especially since the TWU voted down concessions.

    I may vote for this, but I won’t sign to put it on the ballot. Hearing people yell out that MUNI will be fixed by this makes me sick. I don’t even want to get within 10 ft of those shills.

  • those dudes

    elsbernds petition isn’t just using volunteers to gather signatures…they are paying people to gather signatures (and spread false info per the conversation I just had with one outside a safeway)

  • marcos

    ‘When Chronicle reporter Rachel Gordon asked the Mayor if he had signed the petition himself, he admitted he hadn’t. “I helped draft it,” he said. “I say helped, meaning [Chief of Staff] Steve Kawa in my office was very much involved with a deliberative process with the supervisor to make sure that we were all on the same page in terms of what this initiative called for.”‘

    Is it legal for City employees to participate in the drafting of an initiative proposed to qualify for the ballot via signature petitions on City time?

    For submission to the BofS for 6 votes, sure, but to go directly into the out-of-city-hall public process, I don’t think so.

    That said, Newsom is fundamentally correct in his assessment of the TWU however his and Elsbernd’s (and apparently Kawa’s) solution is opportunistic and divisive, reflecting his inability to lead, to find common ground amongst competing interests which is so critical to governing amidst hyperdiversity.


  • Souper


    This isn’t a race issue. And people (including men) are entitled to get angry when the Muni Union sticks its head in the sand and refuses to make concessions when everyone else, including muni riders, are.

    Gavin has his flaws, but don’t let your dislike of him, or of many white males apparently, distract you from seeing that everyone has to contribute to improve the mess that is muni.

  • patrick

    Not only will I vote for the law, but I signed the petition, and I circulated it, and I did it as an unpaid volunteer. I was very happy to do it, and it was extremely easy to get people to sign it, although I only circulated it at my office.

    My main concern is the work rules, and I agree that the initiative is not a fix for MUNI, but it is a fix for a major problem at MUNI. The existing situtation is wrong and needs to be changed.

    I did notice the statement by Newsom: “you’re gonna end up marking to market, which means you’re not going to dramatically change the wage schedule”

    Only a politician could say something like this. I don’t really care if the drivers are overpaid, but nobody in their right mind could think the bus drivers are making market wages. A bus driver for a private shuttle probably makes less than half what the MUNI drivers make, in fact many doctors make less than the average driver (my wife works HR at a hospital, and has told me what some of the doctors make, so I know this for a fact). The salaries the drivers make has nothing to do with the market, and everything to do with politics. The union negotiates with people who do not have to actually pay their wages, but do want their votes, and that is the biggest problem with almost all public unions.

    I can’t stand Newsom, it’s clear he’s trying to take credit for the ballot initiative now that it’s looking popular, and it is obvious that he is now trying to court the center now that he is running for state office. I know it’s unlikely, but I SO hope he loses his bid for LT gov…

  • marcos

    At $27/hr, $60K/yr, operators are not overpaid.


  • Mike

    A little misleading Marc. 60k is the base rate – the least an operator can make. Several operators make well over 100k and don’t get me started on overtime. The city charter requires muni operators to make the second highest wage in the country. How do you define overpaid? We are all hurting right now, muni operators should not be an exception.

  • marcos

    @Mike, the overtime comes from split shifts, where operators work some hours on morning commute and some for evening commute.

    I happen to support the 8 hour day law myself, and think that anyone who has to spend 15 hours of their day working, having just worked or having to go back to work should be compensated for it.

    The alternative is not an alternative, part-time operators, because of the fixed costs of additional benefits would most likely eat up any overtime savings.

    Newsom agrees that the wages will need to reflect market costs of living, and that second highest wage is probably in the ballpark of what would be negotiated. Removing that charter provision will most likely not impact on the wage cost.

    The more pressing issue that removing the guarantee would address are work rules negotiation. This is one way to get at it, and the fault rests squarely with the TWU for not acknowledging political reality and putting forth a proposal of their own.

    There are worse things in the world than removing the salary cap and tilting the arbitration towards the benefit of the riders.

    But the notions that operators are overpaid at the base rate, that they there would be mission enhancing salary savings if the wage floor were lifted, that overtime after 8 hours is a bad thing, or that part-time operators would solve the problem are misplaced.

    Once you’re through ritualistically lashing out at organized labor, kinda like kicking a sick dog, come back at me and we’ll have a substantive discussion on how to reform transit.


  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Again, driver pay is not the issue the public cares about. It’s the work rules. People are understandably pissed off when they see three LL trains in a row depart from Embarcadero station. Why does this happen? Because the operator “owns” his train and can leave from the end of the line whenever he wants. And if there’s three LL trains in on the platform at Embarcadero, management is powerless to reassign one of them to the K and one to the M. These are fantastically stupid work rules that exist, seemingly, only to irritate the public.

  • marcos

    One way to get at the work rules is by forcing substantive contract negotiations. Without the ability to negotiate salaries, they’re hard wired by charter, the City can’t muster the leverage to change the work rules. Hence, the resort to eliminating the salary floor to provide negotiating leverage.

    Had TWU not been catatonic, they might have offered up an alternative, but they’re flatlined.


  • david vartanoff

    @Jeffrey W. Baker, Actually, Muni CAN reassign those L drivers, they CHOOSE not too. Option one is a request “for the good of the service” at no premium. Option two is ordering a change which incurs a pay premium.
    And FWIW, Muni could have long ago insisted in contract negotiations that ALL Green Division LRV jobs be X hours route as assigned. Never made the effort. I am NOT defending TWU here, just pointing out that mgmt. is also too lazy/stupid to use the tools they have. Even easier but useful from a rider perspective, Muni should long ago have implemented “fallback” staffing. This model decouples drivers from specific trains and puts them more on a timeline. When the inbound train arrives, the next SCHEDULED driver takes over. The incoming driver then has “relief time” and becomes next in line to depart. By having the “new” driver board the “rear” cab of the train going into the turnback tracks, also should make that process faster. All of these ideas have been proposed to Muni several times over the history of Rescue Muni–you see the results.

  • marcos

    Whenever they go to the ballot with stuff like this, with Sit/Lie, pension reform, Care Not Cash, etc., the point is to use outrage as a vehicle to achieve greater political objectives, not to solve the problems.


  • Drivers make $60k as base pay?!? Yes, that is overpaid, especially considering all of the benefits while working and when retired. Jesus, when did driving a bus become more valuable as a skill than teaching our next generation how to read, write, and do math?!?!

  • Alex

    @David drivers can still refuse a reassignment. From what I remember, the MOU specifies a few situations in which drivers can be reassigned in a mandatory fashion, but relatively low limits (something like 4 reassignments per division or some such bunk) were in place.

    While I don’t know if the ‘route as assigned’ bit has been proposed, I’ve got no doubt the TWU would have struck it down ASAP. Likewise, have you actually spent time at West Portal, Castro, or Embaracdero where service is dependent upon the availability of drivers? Yes, the turnback process could be sped up SIGNIFICANTLY… but finding drivers is incredibly difficult. Sure, if you had the staff to fill the trains in a timely manner things could be sped up. But with a 20%+ absentee rate and the inability to fill the holes with part-time employees it gets even more difficult to ensure that you’ve got drivers ready for the arriving trains. Trains will sit at the inbound Embarcadero platform for 5+ minutes on a regular basis just waiting for a driver to decide it’s time to work. Of course the result is that everything just backs up behind it….

    @marcos So let’s think of all the other things that part-timers could be used for such as filling in for absent full-time employees. In any case, the MTA has a higher percentage of drivers on standby than other comparable agencies.

  • patrick

    @marcos, while I agree that in general taking these types of issues to the ballot is pure politics, and that’s still the case in port for this initiative, I also believe that in this case it has to go to the ballot, as it’s overturning a previous ballot initiative that sets the salary at 2nd highest. I think drivers are overpaid, but I don’t really care, my issue is the work rules, which can’t really be negotiated without salary negotiations. It’s not a silver bullet, and I agree with david that management has shown a great level of incompetence, but none of that justifies the current deal the operators have.

    Part time drivers wouldn’t necessarily qualify for benefits, nor would they necessarily be part of the union, it would also allow management to call part timers in when a driver calls in sick, which would reduce the overtime paid to drivers who then come back the next day to pick up the shift of another driver who calls in sick. These are a large part of why the union is so opposed to allowing part time drivers.

    I also see the operators, as a group, being rather arrogant, or completely out of touch. They had 2 opportunities to give concessions which probably would have gone a long ways towards derailing the initiative, but they soundly rejected those opportunities. I believe every other city union has made concessions. Now it’s time for the people to speak out about how they feel, and I suspect the operators will soon be wishing they had taken one of the opportunities they had.

  • Alex

    @Patrick The current MOU explicitly states that part-time drivers qualify for the full gamut of benefits.

  • patrick

    @Alex, but with new negotiations and salaries on the line, all that can change, which is why I used “necessarily”. This doesn’t mean it will change, but without salaries on the line it certainly will not change.

  • rich415

    @ patric , your fix muni bull isnt going to fix muni, you know it, we know it. this is an attack on minority workers, because if you were really trying to do something you would attack the firefighters who are all white, but you dont, you would attack the police department but you dont, why not, because their white, the make up of the people who put their signature on the measure are who white people, lets say roughly 85% the others were told this would stop fare hikes, and some other bullshit.

  • Sprague

    @ rich415: Attacking firefighters or police officers wouldn’t do much to improve Muni service. In times like these, all public employees whose pay exceeds a certain threshold should agree to wage concessions or work rule adjustments. Good, reliable public transit benefits all of us.

  • those dudes

    what am i missing? looking at the current job opening for a muni driver – looks like they get paid between $37-58K/year. doesn’t seem like all that much to me…the base salary for an entry level cop is 78k…

  • Alex

    @Rich I guess when you don’t have a valid argument it’s just easier to fall back on the race card than say nothing, eh? As a man of color I find your ridiculous claims unconscionable. Instead of having anything productive to say, you’re trying to drag everyone down to your level. Piss off.

  • Wait, Gavin is still playing at mayor? I can’t wait until November when we can promote him out of office.

  • Also, “the race card” should be banned from the English language.

  • TF


    Playing the race card should be discouraged from serious debate.

    But I’ll leave banning words to the type of totalitarian regimes that ban free speech and books.

  • marcos

    @patrick, I’d not want to see part-time workers hired without health care, and I don’t think that a non-union operator force would fly politically in San Francisco, even if the somnolent TWU is the union.

    There are several dynamics going on within the TWU, none of them healthy.

    There are those who say that there is a power struggle going on between the old guard Black TWU membership and the newer Asian operators. Are claims of race cards generic against all people of color, or is this some nefarious plan by downtown white interests to drive a wedge between Blacks and Asians, divide and conquer?

    @rich, Elsbernd’s measure is the only game in town because the TWU has not stepped up to the plate and been a full participant in promoting its own vision of how to reform the system. Hands have been extended from progressives, but the TWU has not been able to meet us halfway.

    I do not support Elsbernd’s measure, however it really is no skin off of the riding public’s ass if the arbitrator was directed to consider first and foremost the interests of the riding public instead of the City or TWU. At some point, it is anti-labor to allow the Muni, which carries hundreds of thousands of working people to their jobs daily, to atrophy further.


  • @TF: I was clearly being serious with the suggestion.

    But honestly, the fact that complaints about racism are routinely dismissed with a linguistic cliché just reminds me that we, as a society, are unable to maturely discuss issues of race and racism.

    The idea that racism isn’t a factor in desperate treatments of TWU and Police/Fire workers is rather difficult for me to believe, as is the idea that it is the determinate or even primary cause of this desperate treatment. The fact that we can’t talk about these issue without obnoxious sloganeering speaks poorly about us.

  • TF

    It’s a transit issue not a race issue. You diminish the validity of your argument when you introduce race into this. There are white Muni operators and black Muni riders. Presenting this as a simply white vs black race issue is as disingenuous as it is misleading and unpersuasive.

    You can do better. Please try and argue the issue on its merits and not turn this into a vulgar, spiteful and confrontational form of class warfare.

    That’s the longhand version of the allegation of “playing the race card” since you apparently don’t like that phrase. But whatever you call it, it’s a cheap tactic and not worthy of this forum.

  • You kinda just proved my point, TF.

    “Presenting this as a simply white vs black race issue”

    Re-read my post and don’t put words into my mouth. I explicitly said that it’s a complex issue

    All that I’m saying is that race is likely one factor among many that accounts for the disparate treatment of TWU and Police/Fire unions. To deny this out-of-hand with a tired cliché is intellectually dishonest at best.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Actually transit policy in SF is all about race, going back (at least) two decades. Part of the reason why it’s difficult to get a good faith negotiation with the TWU is that Muni is a well-paying job which is open to minorities, which makes it practically untouchable among guilty white politicians, even though the pay scale is not the central issue. And multiple mayors have played to the black and chinese communities in matters of transit investment, freeways, bus service, etc. Race is always present in SF politics and transportation is not an exception.

  • And I should add that the state of transit prioritization in America is a much sharper example of “a vulgar, spiteful and confrontational form of class warfare” than is trying to discuss how factors of race might interact with city policy and pubic support for city workers.

  • Alex

    @SFResident claims of racism are dismissed with a “linguistic cliché” because they *are* clichéd. If this were a case of the TWU being the only union being asked to compromise, then, sure, maybe there ought to be a discussion. As-is, such hand waving is disingenuous and merely serves to detract from having intelligent discourse about the problems at hand.

    Look at that. Instead of talking about problems with the city’s budget, the MTA’s funding, or driver work rules, we’re bickering about whether or not reforming work rules is a racist move. It’s laughable. Considering that every other city employee union has compromised with either pay cuts, furlough days, or some combination of both… claims of calling out the TWU for being the lone hold up are laughable. Considering that the RIDERS who are hurt the most by the drivers’ arrogance and unwillingness to compromise are predominantly poor and of color… well… rich’s claims are again exposed as laughable.

    Hell, considering that non-white supervisors have come up with nearly equivalent legislation, I’d say that painting this as a white on minority issue is not an over-simplification, but an outright lie. That is, of course, unless Chinese, Latino, and Persian are the new white.

    And, of course, the comparisons with the public safety unions is bullshit at best. From two days ago:

    “Over the next two years, the police concessions will amount to 8 percent savings through a combination of raise deferrals, unpaid floating holidays, freezing the annual wellness program that offers pay incentives for not calling in sick, and reducing the pay perk for working nights, according to a memo prepared by Martin Gran, employee relations director for the Department of Human Resources.”

    So, yeah, perhaps the SFPD officers are getting more respect because they’re actually working with the city to reduce their financial footprint as opposed to the drivers who are refusing to do so and then thumbing their noses at riders (by trying to shut down 311, eliminate free transfers, get rid of video cameras onboard, etc).

    Rich’s whinings are nothing more than a tired cliché. But, hey, I bet you forgot for a moment about how lack of dynamic reassignment is absolutely killing LRV service, didn’t you? 🙂


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