Muni service, the backbone of San Francisco’s transit infrastructure, lives or dies by its operators. Now those operators have a new union president, known for his dogged organizing and fiery rhetoric: Roger Marenco.
Yet his rise in Muni’s union ranks has been accompanied by strife.
At union meetings, the 35-year-old Muni operator and Mission District local often wears his brown Muni jacket around his shoulders like a cape. His last assignment was to operate trains on the F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line.
Marenco won the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A election in a landslide victory of 725 Muni operator votes. The next runner up, DeJohn Williams, received 231 votes. Some operators credit Marenco’s win to his text message group, which includes 1,200 Muni operators, as well as to his YouTube show exclusively targeted at educating Muni operators called “The Transit Talk.”
The election took place in mid-December, but was contested by union election officials. The dispute, which involved allegations of Marenco “interfering” with the election, was only resolved in recent weeks, according to an explanation in Marenco’s show, The Transit Talk.
“These charges are based on inaccurate statements, incorrect information, rumors, etcetera,” Marenco said, in his video. “Don’t believe the rumors.”
Though his opponents sought to invalidate the election, in the end Marenco was only delayed in assuming the presidency, which will begin in April.
TWU Local 250-A executive vice president Pete Wilson said it was against the union constitution to discuss member disputes.
The terms of the appeal and resolution with the union mean Marenco cannot talk directly about his union presidency yet. Generally, however, he told the San Francisco Examiner he sees much opportunity for Muni service to improve.
“There’s a tremendous lack of morale among operators,” he said, “Many politicians think ‘I’m going to fix Muni.’ You know what operators really want and need?”
“Dignity,” he said.
Operators also are seeking better restroom facilities, time to move between yards for runs, more publicity around assaults on operators and a shorter wage progression for new operators to obtain full pay, Marenco said.
The freshman union president will have a year to prepare to negotiate the next contract between 2,000-plus Muni operators and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Irwin Lum, a past Muni union president, said he was concerned Marenco may not yet have enough experience to negotiate a contract with The City.
“I think he needs to get a handle on it and pull ideas from the membership,” Lum said.
The last major contract negotiation, in 2014, was led by past president, Eric Williams, and resulted in the “sickout” that saw hundreds of Muni operators simultaneously calling in sick, crippling The City’s transit.
When asked if he thought San Francisco would experience another “sickout,” Marenco said “ I hope not,” and said better treatment of operators would make for smooth negotiations.
Born and partially raised in El Salvador, Marenco said his family brought him to San Francisco when he was seven years old. He attended Mission High School.
Marenco and his family also fought an eviction during the Dot Com Boom which was memorialized in the documentary “Boom: The Sound of Eviction,” in 2001. When Marenco was 19 years old, then-supervisor Tom Ammiano honored him for his organizing efforts at the Board of Supervisors’ first annual Youth Recognition Day and brought him into his office as an intern, where he aided in Spanish language translation in organizing efforts.
“We were always impressed by him,” Ammiano told the Examiner. “I guess we’re not alone.”