Well-intended advice for Muni operators 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency wanted to negotiate savings of “at least $26 million” a year in its new contract with the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A — representing approximately 2,000 Muni vehicle operators. But after three months of contentious talks with the union leaders, the SFMTA dropped its newest contract savings estimate to only $7.1 million annually.

Still, it’s not necessarily surprising that both management and labor proclaimed their satisfaction with the results. This was just the first round of Muni collective bargaining since voters passed Proposition G in November and overturned the charter-enshrined formula guaranteeing Local 250-A members the nation’s second-highest transit-operator salaries.

It can be seen as a good start for what will surely be an annual process of deficit-reduction bargaining. And also, an off-the-record consensus of insiders agreed that it’s really impossible to predict accurately how much the contract’s true savings will be.

Included in the tentative agreement are a three-year wage freeze plus elimination of excessively generous overtime pay categories. The SFMTA would also now be allowed to save on overtime pay by hiring a capped percentage of part-time drivers for commuter peak hours.

Unfortunately, the most-challenging phase of finalizing this pact lies ahead. The union-management agreement means nothing unless Local 250-A rank-and-file ratifies it by Wednesday. And this is a union membership that twice last year rejected its leadership’s recommendations and voted down much-needed givebacks that every other San Francisco public employee union accepted.

Once again the ball is in the Muni operators’ court, so this newspaper would like to address them directly with some well-meant advice.

Dear Local 250-A members:

We recognize that driving a bus, train or trolley through San Francisco traffic is grueling and demanding work, which most of you accomplish daily with admirable skill. You deserve your good salary and good benefits, which nobody is trying to take from you.

This debate has primarily been about changing the wildly unproductive work rules that gradually slipped into your contracts and now waste millions of dollars the SFMTA badly needs for delivering the level of reliable, convenient service the public pays for and rightfully expects.

Therefore, here are two important factors you would do well to keep in mind when you vote on whether to accept the new contract.

You probably wouldn’t have Proposition G canceling your cozy salary formula if you hadn’t angered San Franciscans so badly by rejecting those last two givebacks that all the other unions accepted as necessary. Keep it up and the voters might box you in even more.

As you know, if you don’t approve this contract you must go into binding arbitration. Isn’t it better to negotiate your employment terms directly with management — which at least has a strong incentive to live in peace with you so Muni runs smoothly?

Be smart, Muni operators. It’s easy to keep a pro-labor city like San Francisco on your side if the public believes you’re respecting them. Don’t vote down this contract and dig yourselves into a deeper hole.

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