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Talks Break Down in Muni Labor Dispute

| June 12, 2014
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Passengers board the #38 bus on Geary Street, near Union Square. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

Passengers board a 38-Geary bus near Union Square. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

By Bryan Goebel and Dan Brekke 

With contract negotiations stalled, Muni officials are turning up the pressure on the union representing San Francisco bus and rail operators.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin sent a letter to the president of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A on Thursday, reiterating the terms of a contract that operators rejected last month before staging a three-day sickout.

That pact, reached with the help of a mediator after the two sides hit an impasse in early May, includes a pension payment swap: Operators would begin making a 7.5 percent pension payment now made by the city in exchange for a 5.05 percent offset and 3 percent wage increase in the first year of a two-year contract, according to the SFMTA.

In his letter to TWU 250-A President Eric Williams, Reiskin said that, because time is running out to reach a new contract before the city’s fiscal year ends June 30, he will ask the SFMTA board to approve the contract operators voted down.

“This action will at least allow the possibility that an agreement could be reached,” Reiskin wrote. He also urged the union to attend an arbitration session June 24. Reiskin said that session, mandated by the City Charter, would give union officials a chance to argue for changes in the contract.

Union officials had no immediate comment on Reiskin’s letter, but said they were reviewing it with their lawyers.

The SFMTA chief’s message also includes a warning: If the union fails to agree to a new contract, the economic terms of the current package will continue for the next fiscal year. And if that happens, Reiskin wrote, current grievance procedures, procedures for collecting union dues and other non-economic contract provisions would lapse.

That threat could provide some incentive for the union to agree to arbitration, said John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University. However, the process doesn’t favor operators, who are deeply unhappy with what’s being offered.

“There’s a feeling that under the new contract, the vast majority of drivers would be paid less in real wages over the lifetime of the agreement, compared to what they make now,” said Logan.

Muni operators make anywhere from $18 to $29 an hour. SFMTA officials say the new contract would bump pay to $32 an hour, the second highest in the country for transit operators. But union officials say their own accounting of the contract has operators making $1.10 an hour less.

TWU officials had been talking to the SFMTA since Friday through a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Board. But the agency received word late last night that the union was refusing to participate any further, according to Muni spokesman Paul Rose.

Rose said an unusually low number of sick calls was received Monday, one week after the start of a sickout that disrupted the commute for thousands of riders over three days. There has been no indication of any future sickouts, though such wildcat actions are difficult to predict.

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About the Author ()

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco and a producer and anchor at KCBS radio. He's a lifelong Californian and over his 20-year radio career has worked at stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento. Reach Bryan Goebel at bgoebel@KQED.org.

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