Wiener to SFMTA: Google bus pilot program should consider fair wages, working conditions

When granting permits to “Google bus”-style corporate shuttles, The City should measure a shuttle provider's “labor harmony.”

That's the idea behind a resolution Supervisor Scott Wiener said he plans to introduce at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, in a move dovetailing the growing unionization of corporate commuter shuttle providers.

The resolution urges the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency specifically to consider “the extent to which an applicant can assure Labor Harmony in its operations” when granting an application for a company to take part in the commuter shuttle pilot program. Under the program, tech company commuter shuttles are allowed legal use of nearly 200 Muni stops and a handful of white-zone curbs.

“The employee shuttles play an important role in our transportation system, helping many S.F. residents get to work without having to drive,” Wiener told The San Francisco Examiner. “But we need to make sure the drivers of these shuttles are treated fairly in terms of wages and working conditions.”

Just how “labor harmony” is defined is left intentionally broad in the resolution, Wiener said, because municipal governments can't legally compel unionization. But as workers at shuttle providers contracting with companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Genentech voted to unionize as recently as Feb. 27, the resolution could be seen as urging fair work values.

“Unionization can be one way of achieving labor harmony, but we did not define what it means,” Wiener said. “There's still a lot of work to do in making sure the drivers are being treated fairly.”

The resolution then asks the SFMTA to weight workers' rights as a factor in whether or not to allow it to join the commuter shuttle program.

Teamsters Joint Council 7 represents 100,000 workers in 22 local unions in Northern California, the Central Valley, and Northern Nevada – and the newly unionized commuter shuttle drivers. Doug Bloch, political director of Joint Council 7, said the resolution helps buffer against a pernicious Bay Area problem.

“A lot of people criticized these shuttle buses as symptoms of income inequality,” Bloch said. “If these drivers want a right to organize a union, they can do that.”

The shuttle drivers' key complaint, and a linchpin of their motivation to organize, is the “split-shift” issue, he said. Drivers shuttle tech workers to Silicon Valley in the morning, but wait hours until the evening to take those same tech workers home.

“They don't get paid while they wait around in the afternoon,” Bloch said. “They're not making six figures like people riding in the bus.”

And the drivers often live too far away to drive home for the day. Bloch said many more commuter shuttle providers remain without unions, and unionization efforts may only increase.

“Let me put it this way,” he said, “there's no shortage of companies.”

This new resolution is a complementary proposal to Wiener's recent move at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, where he urged the authority to a “watch” (instead of “opposed”) position on Assembly Bill 61, which would legalize commuter shuttle use of city bus stops statewide.

The authority voted 6-4 to move to the “watch” position.

If the labor harmony resolution passes, the SFMTA Board of Directors ultimately will decide on whether or not to heed the supervisors' advice. The SFMTA was unable to comment before press time.

Meanwhile, San Francisco's commuter shuttle pilot program is being sued by SEIU Local 1021 and others to compel an environmental impact report, as they allege that the shuttles create excess pollution along with drive up rents near the routes and displace residents. Displacement of communities is an environmental concern under the California Environmental Quality Act.

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