The typical tumult surrounding the everyday operations of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA) continues to steadily rise to its boiling point, as it seems that with every passing week a new problem arises for the much-embattled agency.
Come Monday night, however, the drama of the SFMTA could reach an all-time high if Muni drivers go through with their rumored sickout next week, which would start with the September 13 late-night Owl service and continue through September 17, likely forcing hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents who depend on Muni to find alternate forms of transportation.
As we reported earlier this week, the California Public Employment Relations Board rejected the Muni union’s bid to stop the restoration of services that were diminished earlier this year. The union had argued that the service restorations would unfairly disadvantage Muni operators.
While this certainly added fuel to the fire of union workers’ disgruntlement, the sick-out primarily stems from the SFMTA’s efforts to curtail its budget by making it harder for Muni employees to fudge absences and eliminating “standby runs,” in which veteran Muni drivers were allowed to sit around waiting to get an assignment. According to an anonymous flier posted throughout San Francisco earlier this week, Muni drivers are also disgruntled about a new regulation to generate money that will take away their previously free parking and force them to pay $80 a month (or $924 annually) for them to park at their work sites.
“THEY WANT US TO PAY $80 A MONTH FOR PARKING OUR CARS. NO WAY has JOSE GONE TO SAN JOSE,” reads the fourth bullet point on the list of demands.
The flier also encourages Muni drivers to “TAKE A STAND” (yes, it is all written in ALL CAPS), and says, “IF WE DON’T COME TO WORK HALF A MILLION PEOPLE WILL NOT GO TOWORK ALSO (sic). IT’S TIME TO USE OUR POWER. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”
The Transportation Workers Union has denied any responsibility in the publication of this flier, but that hasn’t stopped the SFMTA from issuing a statement of their own, essentially warning Muni drivers that they won’t tolerate any funny business next week or any week.
In the memo, SFMTA Director of Administration, Taxis and Accessible Services Debra A. Johnson reminds Muni employees that any action resembling a sickout is forbidden by the City Charter and the Memorandum of Understanding with the union. It also mentions that drivers who take time off due to a legitimate illness will need medical certification to excuse their absence.
“I thank you for your cooperation and your dedication in moving those who reside and visit this Transit First city,” Johnson said.
So is this sickout all just, as N-Judah Chronicles’ Greg Dewar suspects, a stunt, an empty threat by displeased Muni employees who wanted to make a statement to the MTA, or is a legitimate plan to ditch work and disrupt Muni services in the works? Whichever it is, we’ll find out next week on the next episode of “As The SFMTA Turns.”