Tentative contract deal could help end shortage of Muni drivers

Legislative analyst identified long wait for operators to reach full pay as factor in high turnover

Muni’s union and The City have come to a tentative agreement in their contract negotiations, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

And although the union and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are tight-lipped on the details of these contract talks, some operators within the agency are claiming the agreement is strong enough — in both pay increases and wage progression — to help end the Muni operator shortage.

That shortage of drivers has led to increasingly bad service on the streets, as buses and trains sit idly by without enough staff to operate them.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose confirmed there is an agreement with the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators.

But Rose said in a statement, “The next step is for the union membership to ratify. It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment any further and get ahead of their process.”

Indeed, Roger Marenco, president of the TWU Local 250-A, said his members will likely vote on the tentative contract in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as next Wednesday.

He would not comment on the contents of the agreement because “we still have not signed off on it, and hypothetically, language might be changed from today until tomorrow,” he said. Marenco said he must still review all the contract language in detail.

However, Muni operators speaking on condition of anonymity told the Examiner they’re energized about the agreement. Some operators who are in a position to hear details about the contact said it may offer a significant enough change to what they view as a slow wage progression to keep Muni drivers in their jobs.

A Budget Legislative Analyst report from late last year detailed Muni’s trouble hiring and hanging on to operators.

In December last year, the agency needed 2,305 operators to run its buses and trains but only had 1,894, a deficit of 411 positions. That deficit has existed since “at least” September 2016, and is largely due to an increase in a wage “step,” the budget legislative analyst found.

Essentially, SFMTA changed the length of time it took operators to reach full pay, which led new Muni operators to flee the agency after they were trained, and to use their newly obtained Class B licenses to work for private transit companies or other municipalities that pay more. That step changed during the last contract negotiations in 2014.

Operators used to enjoy an 18-month step, the Examiner previously reported, but after the 2014 contract negotiated by former Mayor Willie Brown and former Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Eric Williams, who later joined SFMTA management, the step was increased to almost five years.

While the union may be tight-lipped about the agreement, it is perhaps telling that while operators last month stopped working overtime in a bid to push the agency to offer a better contract, such work actions have stopped in recent weeks — despite rumors of a possible work action to derail transit after Bay to Breakers this past weekend. Operators said this was a clear sign that the newly agreed-to contract may make their peers happy.

And with more operators on the job Muni service may see a significant boost, according to the budget legislative analyst.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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