MUNI MILES: No Concessions From Drivers

En Español

If the city is waiting for Muni drivers to forgo salary hikes to help bridge the deficit, it’s going to be a wait without end, according to rank and file Muni drivers.

Even the leadership appears to have conceded this fact. After much in the press about a new vote after the union rejected the original proposal to give up the $8 million automatic pay increase July 1, there was talk of a second vote, but that’s not happening, Transport Worker’s Union 250-A President Irwin Lum told reporters last week.

As Muni drivers exited and entered their buses at the 16th and Bryant streets relief point near the Potrero Muni barn, few had patience for any talk of a new vote.

“Were in the line of fire,” a Muni veteran who’s been driving the 22-Fillmore for 30 years said. Like others, the driver requested anonymity.

As he waited to begin his shift at the corner of 16th and Bryant he said he’s tired of being attacked by riders and the MTA for not forgoing his pay increase. But he said that appeared to be shifting.

“More and more people are understanding that it’s not our fault,” he said.

Fearing a ballot initiative that would put an end to Muni drivers’ salary increase formula, union leader Lum and Mayor Gavin Newsom were supposed to meet Monday to formulate a renegotiation, according to Mayor Newsom Spokesperson Tony Winnicker.

However, it’s unclear what happened at the meeting. San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told Lum during Monday night’s MTA protest at City Hall, “we really need to talk.”

When Proposition G was passed in 1967 and added to the city charter, it guaranteed Muni drivers the second-highest transit operator wages in the country.

Mirkarimi said an MTA management audit is already underway and that he would be voting against any further approval of fare increases the MTA Board decides to make for the coming fiscal years.

District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd has said repeatedly that he intends to push for a ballot initiative to amend the city charter giving Muni drivers incremental salary hikes. He wants to have something ready for voters in November regardless what the Muni drivers do.

The drivers seemed well aware that public sentiment could shift easily.

“Their frustration is going to build,” a 33-Stanyan driver said.

The MTA budget deficit of $16.9 was cut by $5 million in reallocated ARRA funds from the Oakland Airport Connector project and $14.4 million in board-approved service reductions. The agency projects a collective deficit of nearly $100 million for the next two years and says that labor union concessions for these years would give the agency $15 million. More promising was the report Thursday in the Chronicle that Muni could get $36 million from the state.

As to a revote on their contract, Potrero Division driver Emanuel Andreas proclaimed, “there will not be any re-vote,” from the union on labor concessions.

Andreas said he encourages all drivers to forgo their wages for one year if the city charter, which promises their wage increase formula, is left intact.

“Ninety percent of operators support the initiative,” to forgo their wages for one year if the charter is not amended, he said, but this could not be independently confirmed.

Currently, signatures from SPUR and the Board of Supervisors are being collected to approve a ballot measure.  To qualify a measure, they must collect at least 46,518 (as of May 4, 2009) valid signatures  or 10% of the total number of registered San Francisco voters, according to the Department of Elections.  (An earlier version erred in saying they needed 600,000 signatures.)

“In November, if the ballot initiative comes before voters, we’re going to have to see what our Plan B is gonna be,” he said.

Andreas is also the president of the Bay Area Transportation Committee, which is a lobbying group for Bay Area transit operators.

“Drivers forgoing their wages for one year is only a short-term solution,” he said. “Muni’s budget problems cannot be solved in just one year,” his organization’s flier concludes.

But drivers seem unlikely to comply.

There will be 175 operator layoffs within the coming year, the first round of which are scheduled as early as May 1, according to MTA Spokesperson Judson True.

And Andreas expects the Potrero Muni barn to lose about 30 drivers if all the operator layoffs are carried out. With the thought of losing their jobs, he said drivers are becoming wearier by the day.

When asked about how events are likely to unfold, a 22-Fillmore driver with the Potrero barn said, “it’s going to get a lot worse.”

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