Rank and file Muni drivers pushed back voting by two weeks over work rule concessions and furlough days that could provide the MTA millions of dollars in savings over the coming fiscal years, according to Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents 2,200 transit workers in the city.
The vote was originally scheduled for today, but drivers need more time to work out the details over concessions, according to Emanuel Andreas, an outspoken Potrero barn Muni driver and union member. An earlier vote in February on forgoing an automatic pay increase that takes effect July 1, failed by a wide margin.
“The consensus after the April 21 union meeting among Muni drivers was to give back in the form of five, six or seven annual furlough days or work rules concessions that will amount to $14 million,” Andreas said. “The union agreed that we have to give something up, there’s no way around it.”
SFMTA President and CEO Nathaniel Ford told Streetsblog SF during an April 27 board of supervisors meeting that $14.4 million would be necessary to legitimize halving the service cuts, which go into effect May 8. He added that concessions among Muni drivers are a step toward generating the money.
Andreas, president of the Bay Area Transportation Advisory Committee, said he’s against Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s mission to amend the San Francisco city charter, which guarantees Muni drivers work rules and the second highest transit operator wages in the country through a specific formula.
Proposition A, approved by voters in 2007, specified a wage minimum for Muni operators through a formula that averages transit operator wages between the first and second highest wages in the country.
Supervisor Elsbernd’s city charter amendment movement, Fix Muni Now, is campaigning for a ballot initiative to reset Muni driver work rules and force a pay and benefits negotiation between the driver’s union and the city.
The campaign must collect about 44,600 signatures by July 6 for the measure to go before voters in November, according to Alex Volberding, manager of Elsbernd’s campaign.
“We’re very confident we’ll meet the requisite number of signatures by the July 6 deadline,” Volberding said. He added that Fix Muni Now is not publicly disclosing the current tally of signatures, citing that the numbers are for “tracking purposes.”
Andreas said he agrees Muni drivers should alter work rules or adopt furlough days to curb Muni’s budget deficit, but he said he disagrees with altering the city charter and blames politicians for scapegoating drivers.
“City politicians are going to destroy our reputation,” he said. “Moreover, we are ready to fight the charter amendment in November.”
Tensions flared during an evening meeting held at Harvey Milk Center on April 27 about the proposal to reform Muni work rules.
Representatives from Elsbernd’s Fix Muni Now, the Muni union and local transit advocacy group, Rescue Muni debated for two hours over redoing the Memorandum of Understanding between the MTA and the union.
“Setting the salary in the charter removes the incentive to get rid of work rules,” Volberding said on behalf of Supervisor Elsbernd who wasn’t at the meeting. “It’s not about the salary, it’s about the work rules.”
He said many of the antiquated work rules included: free gym memberships to 24-Hour Fitness, premium pay for shifts after 6 p.m. and before 5 a.m. and cited 36 operators who get paid full-time salaries for only driving one shift.
Muni driver Michael Leutzinger said none of the work rules were redundant. And Eric Williams, the union chairperson of the cable car division, suggested trimming MTA administrator salaries rather than cutting work rules.
“The reality is there is no more money,” Gillian Gillett, a board director with the San Francisco Urban Research Association, said. “Work rules make the system unreliable.”
The debate became more heated after racial undertones surfaced from a Muni driver, adding to comments made by Supervisor Chris Daly earlier in the day at the board meeting.
“You never attack the wealthy white people, you attack the minorities and the workers,” David Reardon, a Muni driver, said.
President of the Muni Union, Irwin Lum, was at the debate to support the drivers.
“We’re taking the attack where management should be held responsible,” Lum said of drivers. “A lot of our people grew up in the city, but can’t afford to live in the city anymore.”
Leutzinger added that the meeting was informational but too confrontational.
Andrew Sullivan, chair of Rescue Muni, who moderated the debate, said the Muni union’s perspective on what they believe will make better service was important to hear, but he agreed on concessions as viable solution.
“I remained that we need to do something about the salary formula and transit priority,” he said.
Daniel Murphy, vice chair of Rescue Muni, added that his organization is deeply involved with lobbying the MTA board over labor costs.
“Now we’re in the middle of a budget crisis so you can’t kick the problem down the road forever,” he said.
-Natalie Leal contributed reporting to this story