UPDATE: 12:43 pm.
Ok, we jumped the gun. Sean Elsbernd called The Appeal this morning to inform us we missed something, er, large: his proposed charter amendment would not alter section A8.346 of the City Charter, which specifically forbids city employees from striking, lest they suffer termination (firing, not death).
“Muni drivers are not allowed to strike,” Elsbernd told us. If they did, “they would be fired,” and eligible for rehire at rookie status only, with all their seniority — and the accompanying wages and benefits — lost.
However, this is not to say future labor negotiations between the city and its transit workers — once the workers’ nice second-highest pay in the land provision is gone — won’t necessarily be smooth as silk. And also, we wonder: what if all Muni workers walked off the job? Would they all be fired? There’s also a provision in the Municipal Code prohibiting the use of strikebreakers. If all the bus drivers stayed home, who would drive the bus?
In the unlikely instance of such an event, The Appeal wishes it to be made known that it is available. Give us the keys, Mr Ford: we’re ready.
Say what you want about the San Francisco Municipal Railway’s bus drivers and train operators: they will show up for work (most of the time) and when times are tough, they will not strike.
Bet the house on it — it’s guaranteed by law. It’s been the law of the land since 1967, though that could all change after the June ballot.
It’s that “archaic piece of the [City] charter” — which promises Muni employees the second-highest wage of any transit workers in the nation in exchange for promising not to strike — that Supervisor Sean Elsbernd wants to remove, and is pushing a voter initiative for the June ballot to do just that.
“Cities and counties across the country have more control over the Muni budget than we do,” Elsbernd said in a recent committee hearing. “All I propose is we (change the law) and let Muni operators be treated just like every other city worker.”
Granted, there have been no notable San Francisco labor stoppages in recent memory (or, ok, recent lifetimes), and there is “trust” that, if passed, this ballot measure won’t result in a shuttered bus system if Muni workers didn’t like their hours, their $29.16 an hour base pay, or the cool-as-fuck uniform provision that allows drivers to wear almost whatever they want, as long as it’s brown (this author has viewed with some envy the array of hoodies, zippered cardigans, and at least one finely-tailored, brass-buttoned short-cut jacket).
However, with this proposed Charter change, not only would strikes become possible, but with with Muni employees making bolder and bolder statements against their management, it’s one that is starting to seem somewhat plausible.
For their part, transit union reps seem more concerned about healthcare, namely the bit of the charter that guarantees them an annual healthcare payout. In short, the city covers 75 percent of healthcare premiums for its workers and their dependents. The formula for Muni drivers’ compensation is different, so the city puts aside money into a trust fund that is divided up amongst drivers at the end of the year to bring their compensation up to that 75 percent threshold; each driver received $3,000 last year, which caused quite a bit of discussion.
Elsbernd met with union reps and their bargaining team on Monday to flesh out language for the ballot measure that would remove the 2nd-highest wage guarantee while still somehow promising the 75 percent healthcare guarantee.
How did the meeting go, and was the S-word mentioned? We can’t say.
Irwin Lum, the head of Transit Workers Union Local 250A, did not return calls from The Appeal seeking comment, and an Elsbernd aide said the supervisor was heading straight from that powwow into another and could not say how the meeting went.
Elsbernd has said publicly that it would be foolish to “fall to the notion” that his ballot measure would result in strikes.
Still, the prospect of an already-maligned Muni going on strike will be a dicey one, no matter how dire the budget situation.