Muni Union President Roger Marenco posed for a portrait in front of a Muni bus in San Francisco’s Mission District on Wednesday, Feb. 7th, 2018. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Internal dispute prompts suspension of Muni union president just as contract talks begin

Muni’s contract negotiations have taken a sharp turn before they’ve even started.

Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Roger Marenco, representing some 2,000 Muni operators citywide, has been suspended from office just days before the start of major contract negotiations with city officials, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Marenco appears to have been ousted by political detractors who supported the previous unions president, in what you could call Muni’s own “Red Wedding.”

The internal union battle could have wide implications for the salaries of some 2,000 Muni operators. The conflict has even earned the ire of the Transport Workers Union of America, the national body that oversees the local Muni operators’ union.

“For the last year, our great Local 250-A has been embroiled in infighting and dysfunction among its elected leaders,” TWU of America wrote, in a February 25 letter to the union. “As a result, local officers are unable to carry out the essential functions expected by union members after any election: LEADERSHIP.”

The latest conflict took place only five days before the first day of negotiations between The City and its largest labor unions, including TWU 250-A.

Marenco, who took the presidency in April after a landslide vote by Muni operators, was — at least temporarily — removed from office last Thursday following a complaint by some union members that he improperly endorsed a candidate for recording secretary during a union meeting, prompting suspension by the local itself.

SEE RELATED: New Muni union president to take office after dispute

Marenco declined to comment for this story, but sources with knowledge of the situation said the complaint ultimately stems from internal strife with allies of the last TWU president, Eric Williams, who have sought to challenge Marenco’s presidency since the day he won office.

Indeed, the letter from the TWU of American said the central conflict is taking place between Marenco and Terrence Hall, secretary treasurer of TWU Local 250-A, who sources say is a political opponent of Marenco’s.

Hall was one of the officers walking into negotiations with The City as Marenco was suspended.

Whoever is ultimately found to be at fault, the first day of city negotiations has been severely impacted, explained Fred Glass, City College of San Francisco labor professor and author of From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement.

“The timing couldn’t be worse for members,” Glass told the Examiner. Seeing the union divided “never makes sense for membership when just before going into negotiations,” Glass said.

The TWU of America echoed those sentiments in their letter to the Muni union local.

“Local 250-A is about to begin contract negotiations,” they wrote. “These challenges cannot be met by a divided leadership.”

Indeed on Tuesday, Marenco was set to walk into negotiations, utilizing plans and allies he had built over the last three years at least. He has built a following of hundreds of Muni operators in a group text message system, and educated those union members in his YouTube video series “The Transit Talk.”

He even led the Muni union to rejoin the San Francisco Labor Council for the first time in years, gaining crucial allies ahead of negotiations. After Muni operator pay was exposed as a leading cause of Muni service shortages systemwide, Supervisor Vallie Brown vowed to help operators receive full pay that Marenco had agitated for.

Instead of Marenco, Hall and Seigfried “Ziggy” Henderson, another TWU Local 250-A union officer, walked into negotiations in his stead.

Glass said that the actions by the union officials may have far-reaching implications for all of its membership.

“It looks as if they’re putting their political interests ahead of members at the moment,” Glass said. “It’s bound to be disruptive.”

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