By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
SAN FRANCISCO-Bus and light rail operators at the Municipal Railway (MUNI), members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 250-A, rejected a proposed contract in two separate votes this summer.
On July 18, the proposed contract was defeated overwhelmingly: 1175 to 308. Then, in a hastily called second balloting last month, the membership turned down a sightly sweetened contract offer by an almost two-to-one margin.
On both occasions, the rejection took place despite the urging by both management and top union officers for a “yes” vote.
The operators were also able to withstand an hysterical campaign against them appearing day after day in articles in the big business newspapers.
For example, the San Francisco Chronicle preached in an editorial on Aug. 28 that “the ‘we get no respect’ act by San Francisco Municipal Railway drivers is starting to wear thin. By twice rejecting a contract that would have substantially increased their pay but demanded greater accountability, the transit operators seem unwilling to provide the kind of service necessary to make the long-troubled system truly world class.”
But such diatribes in the press have only hardened the resolve of the MUNI operators to stand up for better working conditions. They are tired of being blamed for service problems caused by deteriorating equipment, unrealistic schedules, and an unwillingness to hire sufficient employees to do the job.
It is true that the proposed contract contained a moderate increase in wages (according to a formula already established by the city charter) and a few “incentive” bonuses based on levels of performance.
But it also included give-backs that would have tightened disciplinary procedures, reduced sick leave/holiday pay, and abolished overtime for operators working on their regular off-days who hadn’t already put in a 40-hour week.
Operators were also angry that the proposed contract did not address the multi-tiered wage progression for so-called “new” operators.
In 1996, the time period for new-hired operators to reach full pay scale was extended to an incredible 31 months! This means that a large portion of the work force-generally those driving the most grueling schedules and routes-receives only a fraction of full wages. Simply put, TWU members want equal pay for equal work for all operators.
One veteran operator explained to me why he voted against the contract: “It doesn’t look too bad for me, I admit. I’m planning to retire soon and I’ll be out of here. But we’ve got to look out for the younger guys who are just starting out.”
Indications are that the twice-rejected contract will be presented to the operators for a third vote before the Sept. 24 midnight deadline mandated by the city charter.
If it is not approved, the transit authorities threaten, the drivers will be forced to work under the 1996 contract for one more year-which would mean a wage freeze at the old rates.
Mayor Willie Brown has been speaking with union leaders in an attempt to get them to twist the members’ arms a bit harder to get them to accept the contract this time. Brown no doubt expects success in this endeavor since he has long enjoyed political support from the TWU hierarchy.
Meanwhile, the top union officials have offered a meek “challenge” to management to “jointly sit down with us” and discuss the disputed issues. But since the union tops insist on abiding by the no-strike pledge in the city charter, their “challenge” has no teeth at all.
It is worth noting that New York City transit workers have been similarly encumbered by state and city legislation that prohibits them from striking-or from even discussing a strike. Nevertheless, at a meeting last December, 12,000 members of TWU Local 100 voted: “Strike!” Their vote was only nullified by the inaction of spineless union leaders.
As we go to press, an ad hoc group of MUNI operators has organized a movement to refuse to volunteer for overtime work on Labor Day weekend. Initial reports suggest that some 20 percent of scheduled services have been affected by the work boycott.
A plain-speaking flyer by the rank-and-file “Drivers Action Committee” pointed out: “Now is the time for job actions. … No contract should mean no work!”