Hundreds of San Francisco Transit Workers Stage ‘Sickout’ to Protest Pension Cuts

Rose Arrieta

About half of San Francisco's city buses, light rail, cable and trolley cars are not operating today because of the transit operator sickout, which was launched to protest the city's latest contract proposal.

San Fran­cis­co com­muters are being asked to find alter­na­tive trans­porta­tion arrange­ments in Day 2 of a Muni dri­ver sick­out, affect­ing the oper­a­tion of city bus­es, light rail, cable and trol­ley cars. Today, only 300 of 600 vehi­cles are oper­at­ing, accord­ing to Muni spokesman Paul Rose.

Yes­ter­day com­muters scram­bled to find ways to and from their des­ti­na­tions in the sur­prise sick­out that left two-thirds of the Muni sys­tem bus­es non-oper­a­tional. For­bid­den from going on strike over con­tract nego­ti­a­tions, dri­vers called in sick again today despite a strong­ly word­ed memo from SFM­TA last night that warned, Oper­a­tors engag­ing in an unau­tho­rized work stop­page or sick out’ are not enti­tled to receive paid sick leave and fur­ther, may be sub­ject to dis­ci­pline, up to and includ­ing termination.” 

Muni spokesper­son Paul Rose said in a state­ment yes­ter­day that about 400 out of 600 morn­ing runs — both bus­es and rail car — remained parked on Mon­day. SF Bicy­cle Coali­tion tweet­ed this morn­ing Ride your bike today to avoid any #Muni delays.”

The Trans­port Work­ers Union Local 250‑A, which rep­re­sents the 2,200 oper­a­tors, is involved in a con­tentious con­tract dis­pute with the San Fran­cis­co Munic­i­pal Trans­porta­tion Agency (SFM­TA). The agency man­ages pub­lic trans­porta­tion in the city, includ­ing Muni.

Work­ers over­whelm­ing­ly vot­ed, by 1,198 – 42, to reject a con­tract pro­pos­al by SFM­TA that would have raised wages but, the union says, would have cost work­ers over­all by cut­ting city con­tri­bu­tions to pen­sions. Accord­ing to the union, over the past three years, dri­vers have received no pay increas­es, and they are paid less than their coun­ter­parts in San­ta Clara (about an hour out­side of San Fran­cis­co) and Seattle.

On Fri­day, oper­a­tors reject­ed the lat­est offer by the City, which pro­posed a lit­tle more than 11 per­cent in wage increas­es over two years.

While that would raise their base wages to $32 an hour begin­ning July 1, they would be required to con­tribute 7.5 per­cent of their pay into their pen­sions — which are cur­rent­ly paid for by SFMTA.

The union released a state­ment on its con­tract nego­ti­a­tions that read in part: SFM­TA man­ag­er told work­ers through­out the bar­gain­ing process that any shift from the city’s pen­sion con­tri­bu­tions to a plan fund­ed by indi­vid­u­als would be off­set by wage increas­es and would be cost neu­tral.’ How­ev­er, even with wage increas­es of more than 8.05 per­cent pro­posed by SFM­TA, dri­vers would expe­ri­ence a cut in their take-home pay. … Rather than improv­ing wages and ben­e­fits, under the tran­sit agency’s pro­pos­al, the vast major­i­ty of dri­vers would be paid less in real wages over the life of the agree­ment than they make now.”

Added TWU 250‑A Pres­i­dent Eric Williams: This is a great city, but a very dif­fi­cult place to oper­ate a bus, street­car or cable car. This also is a very expen­sive city, and while SFMTA’s rid­er­ship and rev­enues are on ris­ing, the agency seeks to cut wages and ben­e­fits and con­vert full-time posi­tions to part-time.”

Rose Arri­eta was born and raised in Los Ange­les. She has worked in print, broad­cast and radio, both main­stream and com­mu­ni­ty ori­ent­ed — includ­ing being a for­mer edi­tor of the Bay Area’s inde­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ty bilin­gual biweek­ly El Tecolote. She cur­rent­ly lives in San Fran­cis­co, where she is a free­lance jour­nal­ist writ­ing for a vari­ety of out­lets on social jus­tice issues.
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