Last week, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board chair, Tom Nolan, in the pages of this newspaper, introduced us to a new SFMTA route: spin. Working with Muni’s big-bucks PR guru, Nolan launched a misinformation campaign and attempted to negotiate a contract in print.
Among other things, the SFMTA chair told us work rules are bad and that he, Tom Nolan, knows what he’s talking about because his dad “was a union man” who worked on a railroad. If Nolan spent more time talking to his father, he might have a better understanding of why negotiated work rules are important in public transportation. Forcing operators to work too many hours or assigning them to jobs without proper training can slow traffic, cause injuries and even cost human lives. Operators also know the roads and rails better than anyone and should be involved in scheduling decisions. The agency is trying to eliminate this input and has already removed frontline workers from most decision-making committees.
TWU members also dispute Nolan’s claim that “unsustainable” labor costs are a large part of the agency’s problems. The real culprits are raiding of transit funds by other units of government, and wasteful spending on unnecessary capital projects. Nolan’s claim that the SFMTA received a report stating labor costs make it difficult to use the agency’s bonding authority to upgrade and replace equipment just isn’t true. The report cited numerous reasons that a bond issue would be difficult at this time.
Our members are prepared to do some belt-tightening. In fact, transit supervisors in TWU Local 200 already agreed to furloughs and a new contract the agency refuses to honor. And transit operators in Local 250-A are not asking for raises or increased benefits. But our union is not prepared to allow the SFMTA officials to rip up every clause in our contracts. For example, management would like to change the grievance procedure to a “guilty-until-proven-innocent” system.
TWU members prefer to negotiate in good faith, in a timely fashion, over a bargaining table and not through some propaganda effort. Our goal is to improve Muni so our riders can enjoy safe, quality, on-time transportation. Starting Saturday, we’ll be meeting with management seven days a week, working for as long as it takes to win an agreement that is fair to our members and will help us deliver the best possible service to our customers.
Rafael Cabrera is a 30-year transit operator and president of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A. Reginald McCray is a 20-year transit supervisor and president of TWU Local 200.