Proposition G questions and answers with TWU 250-A
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. Skeptics of Proposition G often say that removing drivers’ existing wage formula penalizes the wrong people in the pursuit of better performance from Muni. If that’s the case, where should we be looking instead? Could we really save Muni more money that way?
Muni’s management has failed riders and drivers alike. The top-heavy bureaucracy at the Municipal Transportation Agency has proved itself willing to slash transit service at the same time as it raises fares, and all the while Muni’s top manager takes home $354,000 per year. As long as management remains unaccountable, service will stay sub-standard.
2. Should we be opening up the possibility of changing drivers’ work rules without knowing what changes might be made? Is it necessary for voters to consider specific changes to rules and procedures?
Prop G doesn’t actually deal with any specific work rules. Proponents argue that Prop. G will give management an opportunity to bargain away certain work rules, but they flat-out misstate the facts about Muni drivers and the rules they work under. Muni management has a tremendous amount of power to suspend, remove and fire operators for poor performance. In fact, under the existing collective bargaining agreement, management is even required to execute disciplinary proceedings quickly so drivers can either be terminated or get back to doing their jobs. Voters shouldn’t be confused: Prop. G doesn’t require any increased service, altered work rules or increased management accountability. It just punishes drivers.
3. It sometimes seems that Muni operators have a tense relationship with system managers. Would Prop. G make this worse? If so, why does that matter to riders and voters?
The portion of Proposition G that most concerns drivers is the provision that changes the way arbitration between the city and the union works. For the first time in San Francisco history, our city’s charter would contain provisions that bind the hands of an arbitrator in making a decision about a contract dispute. An arbitrator would be forced by law to side with management on everything from hours to wages. We believe this unprecedented change will make things significantly tenser.
4. Doesn’t the system of basing Muni drivers’ pay on the pay given to drivers in other systems remove any motivation for drivers to try harder and get better at their jobs? Why should Muni drivers’ pay be determined by a system so different from the way most people’s pay is decided?
We believe the existing salary formula is fair for a group of workers that – unlike other bargaining units – really do live in San Francisco, a city with one of the highest costs of living in the country. While we are open to discussion about comprehensive changes to the charter that would make management more accountable as well as change procedures around compensation, but the current proposal will only allow management to continue to blame workers for the system’s problems.
5. Since Prop. G doesn’t change any work rules itself, what is the problem? In any case, shouldn’t managers be able to negotiate work rules if they don’t help the system work better?
Managers are currently able to negotiate work rules with TWU 250-A, and we regularly negotiate changes in them with the [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency]. As described above, proponents have consistently misstated the current state of work rules. Management has broad discretion to discipline, suspend. and terminate drivers for poor performance.
6. Proposition G requires the Board of Supervisors to approve changes to Muni work rules, and sets out requirements that arbitrators must consider – including possible effects on service. Is that sufficient to ensure that drivers won’t see overly harsh rule changes in the future?
The board already approves all labor agreements. The requirements for arbitrators, discussed above, constitute a landmark restriction to collective bargaining and, we believe, will set back relations between the MTA and its employees.
7. Do any of the rules about sick time, overtime or hiring of extra drivers have anything to do with system performance, or could all the problems affecting Muni be solved simply by providing enough money? If money is the only problem, how much would it take? Where would it come from?
The MTA could hire part time drivers today if it wanted, and any suggestion to the contrary is misleading and does a disservice to the debate about improving Muni. The Yes on G campaign’s allegations about how sick time and overtime provisions work are similarly misleading and detrimental to the policy discussion.
Funding is the key to better service. Over the past five years the City has systematically slashed the MTA’s operating budget, slashed service, all while raising fares. If we want a livable, sustainable city, we need to offer more than lip service to public-transit funding. TWU is currently supportive of a number of revenue-generating measures on the ballot, including a transfer tax on downtown office buildings and a temporary increase in the City’s visitor surcharge paid by tourists. But most importantly, Muni must cut the tremendous amount of waste in its bureaucracy. No chief executive of a public transit agency should be paid $354,000 while riders wait for overcrowded buses and pay more to get on the train.
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