munipiece2.jpgIn a vote that sent shockwaves though San Francisco, the membership of the Transit Workers Union (Local 250-A) has resoundingly rejected the terms of a new contract drafted by the union’s leadership together with SFMTA management. The final tally was over two to one against the contract’s ratification.

“Boy, oh boy, oh boy. I didn’t see that coming,” said Tom Nolan, chairman of SFMTA’s board of governors.

Only a scant few hours after news broke that SFMTA and the union representing over 2,000 Muni operators had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, fractures started to appear in their fragile coalition.

Last week, SFMTA’s controversial external publicist Charlie Goodyear sent out a release announcing the agreement and saying that it would freeze operator pay, allow for the hiring of 200 part-time workers, change the definition of what constituted overtime, lengthen the duration of a disciplinary investigation from two to six weeks, eliminate the jointly-operated Accident Review Board in favor of allowing Muni to appoint independent accident investigators and disallow non-licensed operators from remaining on the agency payroll.

SFMTA initially projected its savings from the new contract to be at least $21.3 million, however that projection has since swollen to $38 million.

It was later that same afternoon when the union sent out their own release condemning SFMTA for not only divulging the contract’s supposedly confidential details to the public but also getting those details markedly wrong.

“The actions by management’s spokesman created a sense of mistrust and confusion that was hard to overcome. We specifically agreed that neither side would make public statements about the tentative agreement until we had a chance to present it to our members,” said union President Rafael Cabrera.

For his part, Goodyear claims that union representatives were actually first in alerting the press to the agreement–although he couldn’t recall which publication got the initial nod.

“It’s my understanding that the union leaders knew we were going to put out a press release and statement,” Goodyear told SF Weekly. “We were never factually incorrect, we were never asked for a correction, and we gave the union plenty of room to go out and discuss this with their members.”

Union spokesman Jamie Horwitz disputed the timeline Goodyear gave to the local alt-weekly and told the Appeal that Goodyear’s claims of not being the first to reach out to the media are somewhat less than candid.

It was this lack of trust between the two sides that likely led to the union’s ultimate rejection of the contract. The economic terms of the agreement (particularly the pay freeze) closely resemble one SFMTA reached with the union representing some 200 transit supervisors late last month.

That contract was easily ratified by that union’s membership, indicating that the motives behind this rejection likely run deeper than just a lack of pay increases over the next few years.

Even with the leadership of Local 250-A firmly backing the contract’s passage, the feeling that management immediately broke the terms of their agreement undoubtedly made it difficult for the rank-and-file to trust SFMTA in a climate where management-labor relations seem to be growing more acrimonious by the day.

The passage of Proposition G last year was the spark that ended decades of uneasy peace between SFMTA and its unions. In the wake of the voter-baked initiative that swung considerably more power into management’s contract negotiating hands, the union has since sued the city of San Francisco to invalidate the law, petitioned to prevent Muni from reviving federal funds if pay or benefits are cut and voted to allow a strike–even though such a strike is expressly forbidden in the city charter.

The union’s membership has a history of rejecting contracts agreed to by its leadership. The union rejected an agreement last year that was expected to bring over $15 million in savings for the agency.

Since both sides were unable to reach an agreement, the law dictates that the final contract be decided through arbitration. Representatives from both sides are scheduled to meet with the arbiter sometime today. The arbiter’s decision, whatever that may be, is scheduled to take effect at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1st.

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