This afternoon’s Facebook-organized March Against Muni endured its share of criticism since they registered their domain one month ago today, but this afternoon might have been the toughest blow — out of their nearly 1200 Facebook “friends,” an estimated 50-100 showed up, only to be co-opted by a larger, more vocal, and far more organized group of Muni drivers.

February was a rough month for the Muni operators’ union, Transit Workers Union Local 250-A, as well. The TWU was blasted by the press, politicians and public for rejecting givebacks and pushing for its city-guaranteed $8 million in raises, and had only itself to thank, the public was told, for impending layoffs announced on Friday.

On Monday, a March boycott of the system’s Fast Passes called for and organized via social media threatened to gain traction and visibility via a march down Market Street, the March on Muni. The union’s reaction? Show up earlier and in greater numbers, and steal the show.

Instead of outraged citizens marching down Market Street demanding “no more rude drivers,”

evening commuters saw union operators shouting for cuts of Municipal Transportation Agency management — and saw the operators of their evening buses honk horns and shout into bus PA systems in support.

Union marchers outnumbered the March Against Muni by at least 2 to 1, and by the end of the night — after a largely one-sided public debate on the steps of City Hall — March on Muni’s organizers declared the drivers their friends, and insisted “everyone is on the same side here.”

Looking at the video, it’s perhaps understandable that March Against Muni organizer Jared Roussel, who told the Appeal last week that he’s been in SF for nearly a year and a half (but splits his time between SF and Manhattan), spent less time pushing his hardline “No More Rude Drivers” demand and more time standing shoulder to shoulder with Eric Williams, the Cable Car Division Chairperson leading the chanting drivers.

(Yes, that’s someone singing “We Will Not Be Moved.” Insert “Muni’s theme song” joke here.)

But let’s not be too hard on Roussel and company: it’s hard not to be steamrolled when the “rude drivers” you’re marching against are the client of well-known political operative Eric Jaye, who clearly earned his first paycheck Monday.

“We didn’t see it as a counter-march,” said Roussel, who found himself engaged in a debate-by-bullhorn with the charismatic Williams. Roussel said his group is still calling for a boycott of the system in March (despite some local reports, suggestions for a boycott were soundly booed by the Union, not encouraged by them) — “If you can walk, do it,” he said — and yet stands with the drivers in their fight against perceived mismanagement at the top of the MTA.

“We wanted to show the MTA that they can’t count on our money,” he said. “And we wanted to bring information to the public — people I talked to on buses and trains over the weekend didn’t know” the MTA approved service cuts on Friday.

Still, at least for an evening, the drivers seemed to have won clear control of the message.
“Bashing the drivers like [MAM] did — it makes no sense,” said march attendee Mitch Park, a concerned citizen who said he didn’t necessarily side with either MAM or the drivers, but was certainly turned off by what he felt was an anti-driver feel to MAM. “I don’t know who they are, but it’s just wrong to do that.”

Park might not know who Jaye is, either, but any populist outcry against Muni drivers seems at best stalled. Jaye did not respond to a request for comment late Monday, but it is very hard to not see the master strategist’s hand in his clients’ victory

Tuesday’s SFMTA board meeting, in which the board is expected to extend the agency’s fiscal emergency, allowing it “to impose a new series of service cuts and fare and fee hikes without first undergoing the usual state environmental reviews,” begins at 2 PM in City Hall Room 400.

For Muni protest superfans: Action News SF livestreamed much of the speechifying, which you can see here

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