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Union president who oversaw ‘Muni sickout’ to work for SFMTA management

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Eric D. Williams was the head of Muni’s operator union during the 2014 multi-day “sickout,” when hundreds of employees called in sick during contract negotiations. (Courtesy San Francisco Bay Guardian)

For six years, Eric D. Williams led Muni’s operator union and oversaw what San Franciscans may recall as Muni’s most infamous snarl: the “sickout” pseudo-strike of 2014, when hundreds of employees called in sick during contract negotiations.

Now, Williams is hanging up his hat as president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A and joining Muni management, who he once opposed across the bargaining table, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

John Haley, director of transit at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, confirmed Williams will be hired into a “middle management” position, though he has no exact title yet.

“Eric has skills as a result of what he did before,” Haley told the Examiner. “He knows the system, he knows the people, at a time when we’re trying to look at what programs to put in place that can build good will with the employees.”

Williams did not respond to requests for interview.

The fiery president previously worked in Muni’s cable car division, where he was known for outspoken and critical views of San Francisco government policies that catapulted him into the union presidency, the Examiner reported in December 2011, when Williams was first elected.

But Williams’ record in negotiations was shaky in winning concessions for union members, Muni operators previously told the Examiner.

In 2014, his contract negotiations with then-mayoral Chief of Staff Steve Kawa came to a standstill, leading The City to call in former Mayor Willie Brown to help. The result of those negotiations was a contract where new Muni operators reach full pay after four years on the job, instead of 19 months.

Past Muni union president Irwin Lum said Williams bungled those negotiations and was highly
critical of Williams’ move to the SFMTA.

“He probably sold his soul to management,” Lum said. “Why would management give him a job?”

After the Examiner reported growing passenger attacks on Muni operators, Williams started a public service announcement campaign against operator assaults. He also worked to protect operators from surveillance by SFMTA management during their breaks.

Haley said that “perspective and insight” prepared Williams for his new job, which may involve overseeing some transit operations.

Williams stepped down as union president in December. An election was held that month, but the results were contested. SFMTA will negotiate a new contract with the operators’ union in 2019.

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