Muni fleet cut by two-thirds during ‘sickout’ worker action 

click to enlarge Muni riders crowd onto the platform at the Powell Street transit station Monday. - JESSICA CHRISTIAN/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Jessica Christian/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Muni riders crowd onto the platform at the Powell Street transit station Monday.

Muni workers who participated in the sickout labor action that cut service to one-third of its normal running vehicle fleet Monday will not be receiving sick-time pay, according to a memorandum from the city transit agency's chief of staff obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

The message from Alicia John-Baptiste to all San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency operators stated, "This memorandum is to inform operators that any such work stoppage is prohibited under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the SFMTA and Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 250-A (9163), and that operators engaging in this conduct are not entitled to receive paid sick leave."

The worker action came as negotiations are underway for a two-year contract. Under the current contract, which expires June 30, top pay for Muni operators is $29.52. The proposal calls for a 10.3 to 11.3 percent increase in pay for operators over the next two years and would make them the second-highest-paid transit workers in the country, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said. However, operators would contribute 7.5 percent to their pensions, an amount now covered by the SFMTA. TWU Local 250-A union president Eric Williams called the proposal an "unfair contract" in a statement on its website.

For many years until July 1, 2011, operators received a yearly increase determined by averaging the salaries of the top two highest paid operator wages in the nation, Rose said. But with the approval of Proposition G starting in 2011, such raises were no longer guaranteed and operators began to bargain for wages. The SFMTA noticed "more operators than usual" called in sick early Monday morning, Rose said. Due to the sickout, 400 out of about 600 vehicles, both buses and light-rail cars, did not go out, cable cars did not run and many limited lines were kept as regular routes. Wait times were as long as an hour depending on the route or line.

"Anytime you can't put two-thirds of service out on the street it's certainly going to impact the entire system," Rose said. "And we apologize to our riders for the inconvenience but have been working extremely hard to balance service across The City."

Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement that SFMTA has negotiated in good faith with the leadership of the Transport Workers Union, Local 250-A. "I am disappointed that this sickout follows the mediated tentative agreement that we reached," he said. "We have a process in place to resolve the remaining issues through the arbitration process already underway." "The current system for negotiating Muni contracts is broken and allows riders to be held hostage," said Mario Tanev, spokesman for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union.

Under the City Charter, Muni strikes are prohibited.

"That's because Muni is a critical service, which is painfully obvious on a day like today," Tanev said. "SFMTA, the TWU, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors need to work to provide ways to end this crisis soon and prevent it in the future."At 6 p.m. Monday, Cavin Kindsvogel, 29, waited for the 38-Geary at Market and Sansome streets with a crowd of more than 100 Muni riders.

"I took a taxi this morning, and I've been living here for five years and never seen a line like this, ever, at this stop," he said, looking to hail a app-based ride service. "A day like today, there would be seven. Now there are none."

Meanwhile, BART honored proof of payment from Muni customers. The SFMTA is ready to make service adjustments if the sickout continues, Rose said.

"We're hoping for the best," he said, "but planning for the worst."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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