Leave it to Muni workers, who have filed a lawsuit to block some portions of the voter-approved reform measure Proposition G, to hop on a train to nowhere.
And this is one time San Francisco’s fabled public transit employees will get there on schedule, because there’s so little traffic moving in that direction.
The November ballot measure, which city voters happily jumped on board with, was aimed at giving the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency more leverage in contract negations. It also took away a provision in the City Charter that guaranteed Muni operators the second-highest salary among transit workers in the nation.
Most labor leaders would have taken the drubbing as a signal that average people are fed up with union entitlements, bloated contracts and ridiculous work rules. But that’s not Muni, which had five separate unions join in the Superior Court lawsuit against the SFMTA, its chief, Nathaniel Ford, and the city of San Francisco.
History tells us that these are groups that would rather fight than switch. Remember for years, Muni operators enjoyed magical “no-show” days, when they could take five days off for no reason and not even call in to tell the bosses. That pass no longer exists, but the idea of a free ride — for the workers, not the passengers — certainly does.
In the lawsuit, the unions want to undo a section of the new measure that requires an independent auditor to resolve the issue if transit operators and management reach an impasse during contract negotiations, and that auditor must consider the impact of any contract on fares and service. According to the brief, that would prohibit the arbitrator from ruling in the unions’ favor on “important subjects.”
So, in essence, they’re upset that the arbitrator would consider the fiscal impact of their demands and possibly rule against them because they are too costly.
Proof that Muni workers may still reside in The City, but it’s clear they’re living in a parallel universe.
Muni’s transit workers union, Local 250-A, was the only labor group that refused last year any givebacks to help San Francisco deal with its ongoing budget deficit. That stand, in the face of financial reality, is what led to the push for the contract reform, which the voters served them with predictable gusto.
So can anyone be surprised that the unions would seek relief by going through the back door?
And there’s no getting around the fact that right now, Muni — and the agency that controls it — needs some outside help in applying the brakes. The aforementioned Ford is desperately trying to leave town to get the top transit post in Washington, D.C., a job that reportedly will help him with his own personal tax troubles. Ford is making more than $300,000 in his current position, yet that doesn’t appear to be enough. We’ll be polite and just say that’s not quite leading by example.
And the SFMTA itself is exploring newer ways to climb out of its runaway budget troubles that could see the agency nearing a $2 billion deficit in the next 20 years. Recently, it hired a group of financial consultants to come up with solutions to the mess, and the response was a series of tax measures that are a lot more predictable than Muni’s service.
At a time when every local and state entity is looking at increased taxes to bail it out of its budget hole, Muni is looking to jump on the bus with a city sales tax. It is also considering a vehicle registration fee, duplicating another effort by the state.
Yet the big-ticket item is a possible parcel tax of up to $200 per property — targeting homeowners for their good fortune of trying to live in one of the most expensive cities in the United States.
The problem is that none of these new taxes and fees has a chance to pass in light of all the other taxes and fees, and probably never will until Muni’s buses start to fly.
In such a dysfunctional agency, we could expect the unions and management to battle each other in court. They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel — there’s too many trains backed up.