Muni hires PR firm to handle media during contract negotiations with workers 

Bracing for contentious and delicate labor negotiations with its workers, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is bringing in a $100,000 hired gun to handle public relations.

The $100,000 PR contract comes at a time when the agency is struggling financially, facing a $20 million deficit. Meanwhile, The City is looking at a $380 million budget shortfall.

The agency hopes to reach a labor agreement by the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. The labor talks are the first since voters approved Proposition G, which gave the agency’s management more leverage to change work rules blamed for inefficiencies and wasteful overtime spending.

By approving the November 2010 ballot measure, voters eliminated the guarantee that transit operators are paid at least the average of the two highest salaries paid to workers of other transit agencies in the nation. Now, their compensation is part of negotiations.

The SFMTA is expected to announce to its board of directors today which consultant has been tapped to handle media communications during the ongoing labor negotiations. The consultant will also do outreach to members of the Board of Supervisors.

Debra Johnson, SFMTA’s director of Administration, Taxis and Accessible Services, said the reason for bringing in an outside consultant was “due to the fact with these Muni negotiations they could possibly become contentious.”

The agency’s current press office, which is staffed by two employees, “is not familiar with aspects of labor negotiations,” she said.

Johnson said the agency is trying to avoid what occurred during the recent BART labor negotiations. She said BART’s spokesperson “was receiving threats and sort of led to a hostile work environment due to the fact that he was relaying aspects of certain work rules that needed to be amended.”

Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represent Muni drivers, questioned the purpose of the contract as well as the expense. “How many people is that going to move across San Francisco?” Scott said. “It’s not money well spent.”

Scott said he wouldn’t be surprised if the consultant bashes drivers during contract talks over the next few months. “They’ve been slamming the operators for the last year and a half. It’s nothing new,” Scott said.

The contract was signed off on by the Civil Service Commission on Monday after commissioners expressed some concern about cost and why the public relations duties couldn’t be handled in house.

“Labor negotiations are fraught with land mines,” said commission chair E. Dennis Normandy. Sending out the wrong message “could have severe consequences to the MTA.”

What can $100,000 buy?

50,000 single adult trips at the $2 fare

1,666 monthly adult Fast Passes at $60

5,000 monthly senior passes at $20

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