It is hard to understand what the 2,000 members of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A could have been thinking when they voted nearly 2-1 against the proposed three-year labor agreement their leaders negotiated for three months with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. This was the third time in a year that Muni’s bus, streetcar and cable car operators rejected their union leaders’ recommendations and — unlike every other San Francisco public employee union — turned down money-saving givebacks desperately needed by The City.
But this time, it’s a whole new ballgame. The operators are highly unlikely to win a better result than what they just voted down.
After the Local 250-A rank-and-file twice refused to make givebacks that would save the public from service cuts and fare increases, angry San Francisco voters passed Proposition G in November. This ended a cozy, long-term City Charter arrangement giving Muni operators automatic raises without need for collective bargaining.
After the union members voted “no” Wednesday, the rejected contract went immediately into binding arbitration.
An independent arbitrator with the power to either accept the contract or make changes had already been chosen by labor and management. This arbitrator attended negotiation meetings and was well-versed in the issues. Arbitration sessions began the day after the vote. A final pact is expected to be announced by Tuesday, and the new binding contract would take effect July 1.
An arbitrator who can make rulings without negotiation would have no reason to give the Muni operators anything better than the deal they negotiated with management for three months. Also, Prop. G requires the arbitrator’s final ruling to benefit the transit-riding public, which might tend to favor a management viewpoint.
Shortly after the membership vote, Local 250-A officials blamed the contract rejection partially on what it called inaccurate statements by a management spokesman who “created a sense of mistrust and confusion that was hard to overcome.” This seemed a particularly unconvincing excuse since it was the union leaders’ clear duty to show their members why it would almost certainly make them worse off to reject the tentative contract.
If the Muni operators were being neither clueless nor in deep denial with their rejection vote, then perhaps they are looking beyond the arbitration ruling. The Transport Workers Union has filed federal and state claims seeking to overturn Prop. G as a violation of a valid labor contract. This could be a long, hard fight since the City Attorney’s Office vetted Prop. G for the ballot and were apparently convinced it is legal.
It would seem that defying their leaders’ recommendations for a third time accomplished little for the Muni operators except to make San Franciscans even angrier at them.