Proposition G questions and answers with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd
Proposition G on San Francisco’s November 2010 ballot would change the way Muni drivers’ pay is determined, set ground rules for arbitration in negotiations between the City and the drivers’ union, and make some other changes to employment terms. While supporters of Proposition G say that the measure will improve Muni service for riders, opponents say Prop. G won’t make the changes that really are needed and instead merely punishes drivers for Muni problems they didn’t create.
Prop. G is a voter initiative that got on the Nov. 2 ballot by gaining more than 44,000 signatures.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who represents District 7, including the Lake Merced, West of Twin Peaks and Parkmerced areas, has been the leading advocate of Proposition G. The Transit Workers Union, Local 250-A has been the most visible opponent of it.
The Ocean Beach Bulletin sent both Elsbernd and TWU 250-A a series of questions about Prop. G, and we’re presenting the TWU 250-A questions and answers here. Answers have not been checked for accuracy and have been edited only for grammar, spelling and punctuation.
1. Proposition G doesn’t get any additional money for Muni. Isn’t funding the biggest problem? How can Prop. G improve Muni if it doesn’t address funding?
Prop. G could potentially deliver millions in funds for riders and operations that currently are spent on Muni drivers’ salaries and work rules. Prop. G eliminates the salary guarantee [in the city charter] that ensures Muni drivers are the second-highest paid in the country. Prop. G also resets Muni driver work rules that contribute to millions of dollars lost in systemwide inefficiencies. Prop. G does not generate new money for Muni from the City, state or federal government, but rather it allows Muni to use the money that it has more wisely, and to the greater benefit of Muni riders.
2. In addition to not addressing funding, Prop. G also doesn’t directly change any work rules. Why not?
Prop. G resets all Muni driver work rules and does not single out specific rules for elimination. Prop. G will require that the [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] and Muni drivers negotiate salary and work rules at the bargaining table, just like all other City employees do. By removing the salary guarantee from the city charter, Prop. G will provide the MTA leverage it does not currently have in order to eliminate inefficient work rules. Prop. G provides the Muni drivers an incentive to negotiate away bad work rules in exchange for salary considerations.
3. Should voters know which work rules might be changed before they support reform measures at the ballot box? Couldn’t we end up with future work rules that make Muni worse, not better?
There are a number of work rules in place that directly contribute to slow and unreliable Muni service. While changes in work rules will be negotiated at the next bargaining session, the following changes would greatly benefit Muni riders:
- Allow Muni to hire part-time operators in order to better meet peak service demands during morning and afternoon commuting hours.
- Change Muni absence policy to hold drivers with excessive unexcused absences accountable.
- Restrict overtime and premium pay to those drivers that work more than 40 hours in a given week.
4. Why can’t the City fix issues with Muni work rules through the collective bargaining process it uses with other City employees?
If for the last 40 years Muni drivers’ salaries had been negotiated through collective bargaining, work rules would likely not be the issue that they are today. Unfortunately, setting drivers’ salaries in the city charter removed all incentive for the drivers to negotiate work rules at the bargaining table. The result is that work rules are inefficient and service is unreliable. This is precisely the problem that Prop. G will solve — remove the salary guarantee, and require that drivers negotiate salaries and work rules through collective bargaining just like all other City employees.
5. Let’s say I live near the end of Judah Street and commute downtown on the N. As a rider, I can’t tell how much drivers are paid or what rules they have to follow. What benefits would I notice as a rider if Proposition G passes?
If Prop. G passes, the MTA will able to allocate savings from salaries and work rules to operations. Because the N is one of the most heavily used routes in the entire system, the MTA should allocate funds to ensure that service is improved. Better service will also require a number of changes to current work rules, but the real benefit will be that additional funds will be available for operations on the N and systemwide.
6. We’ve all had some bad experiences with late buses or impolite drivers. These may be real issues on any given day, but is there a systemwide problem or is Prop. G merely scapegoating drivers and allowing voters’ personal anecdotes to guide public policy?
Prop. G addresses specific problems with Muni that affect all riders. It is not scapegoating Muni drivers to say that drivers should not receive salary increases when services are being reduced for riders. Yet that is precisely what happened this year when the drivers received a 5.5 percent salary increase while the MTA reduced services 10 percent. Prop. G is a common-sense solution to a citywide problem. It will provide the MTA the budgetary flexibility to make Muni more responsive to riders’ needs.
7. One of the tradeoffs in our existing system is that the City pays drivers better wages in exchange for a guarantee there will be no transit strikes. If Proposition G removes the obligation to give drivers high pay, doesn’t it ensure that Muni workers will strike when they don’t like their pay and working conditions? Wouldn’t that be worse than the problems Prop. G is supposed to fix?
There is no connection between the section of the charter concerning Muni driver salaries and the section prohibiting strikes by City employees. Voting Yes on Prop. G will improve service for Muni riders. It will not allow Muni drivers to strike. Striking by City employees will still be a terminable offense.
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