City officials denounce Muni sickout, call for return to full workforce

The en masse sickout of Muni operators continued for the second day Tuesday, further disrupting San Francisco's public-transit system and drawing sharp criticism from city officials who may also seek damages.

Without the legal authority to strike, Muni operators responding to contract negotiations have seemingly achieved a quasi-strike using sick leave. And that has raised the ire of elected officials who, for the second day, fielded complaints from disgruntled Muni riders.

About 50 percent of operators failed to show up for work Tuesday following the reduction of service by about two-thirds of Muni lines Monday, according to city officials. It's unclear if the sickout action will continue today.

On Tuesday, both Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors called for it to stop.

Lee promised to hold the operators accountable for calling in sick, at the very least not paying them for unverified sick time. He is also in talks with the city attorney about pursuing damages.

“It is very frustrating to the ridership,” Lee said. “These are good jobs at Muni; $32 an hour is nothing to sneeze at.”

The board unanimously adopted a resolution urging Muni operators to return to work and warning of a “system meltdown” if they don't, which would damage the economy and cause serious harm to residents' health, safety and economic well-being.”

Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Eric Williams sent a letter Tuesday to union members alerting them of the consequences and advising them to “remain calm and to resume and continue the excellent service we give the public.”

Williams also states in the letter that the union “has not directed, authorized or otherwise participated in any work stoppage.”

Supervisor London Breed described the labor action saying Muni workers used sick time to “technically have a strike and I have a real problem with that. We need to send a strong message to make it clear that we don't appreciate what they are doing.” On Monday, Muni operators were told they won't be paid for a sickout and must start providing verification of being sick.

The action followed Friday's vote of 1,198-47 to reject a negotiated labor contract. The proposal would provide 11.25 percent raises during two years — bringing operator wages to about $32 — but the workers would also pick up the 7.5 percent pension contribution currently paid by the agency. Union leaders have criticized the deal, saying it would lead to less take-home pay.

“The last couple of days have been extraordinarily difficult,” said Transportation Director Ed Reiskin of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. But he noted that “attendance is coming back” and he was “cautiously optimistic that [today] should be much better.”

A binding arbitration for the labor agreement is scheduled for Saturday.

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