Passengers board a San Francisco Muni bus March 7, 2007 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Passengers board a San Francisco Muni bus on March 7, 2007 in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Don Clyde and Mina Kim

Commuters in San Francisco are scrambling to find alternative transportation or enduring the sometimes hourlong wait for a bus as this morning’s operator sickout drags on into the evening.

Two-thirds of San Francisco’s Muni fleet, or about 400 vehicles, remain sidelined tonight, as bus and rail operators show their anger over the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s proposed labor contract. Muni has some 700,000 boardings per day.

Muni is barred from striking, but Michael LeRoy, professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois College of Law at Urbana-Champaign, says sickouts effectively have the same effect as strikes. He spoke with KQED’s Mina Kim on Monday.

“They function very much like a strike,” LeRoy said. “It is a withdrawal of labor by workers, and it’s meant to put pressure on the employers. In that sense it’s a de facto strike.”

The SFMTA will deny pay to operators who called in sick on Monday if they cannot prove they were ill. But LeRoy says management can take additional action against them if they can’t prove they were ill.

“In the current agreement, which is expiring this month, there is a provision for management to count an absent-without-leave as a disciplinary event, and that would result in a two-day suspension,” LeRoy said. “A second violation within an eight-month period would have a 10-day suspension.”

“So if management wants to fight fire with fire, they have the tools at their disposal within the contract to do it,” LeRoy said. “The question is: Would they want to take it that far, because given the number of people who are allegedly engaged in the sickout – you could be looking at essentially putting a majority of your workforce on a fast track toward termination.”

LeRoy said it appears this case will move to arbitration.

“If the parties don’t conclude an agreement in the near future, the contract will expire and then ‘interest arbitration’ is provided,” LeRoy said. “That term means that an arbitrator writes new terms of the contract. That arbitrator doesn’t write from whole cloth. The arbitrator is presented with an argument from the union, an argument from the employer and typically the arbitrator picks one offer over the other.”

Muni workers are not happy with a proposed contract that would give an 11.25 percent raise over two years, but requires them to contribute 7.5 percent into their pensions, which are paid by the SFMTA.

LeRoy said today’s walkout raises the same kind of issues that arose during the BART strikes and in other public sector labor disputes.

“States don’t have money. Municipal governments don’t have money to fund pension benefits,” LeRoy said. “So from the workers’ perspective, the pay raise is essentially going in one pocket and out the other to fund their pension, and in their view they’re not getting a raise, they’re just simply being asked to absorb the cost of their retirement.

“From the employer perspective, they can’t afford it. So these are going to being enduring kinds of issues, and there’s no real relief in sight.”

Listen to the full interview below:

  • AnonymousUser

    THESE OVERPAID SCUMBAGS MAKE OVER $60K A YEAR AND ARE THE SECOND HIGHEST PAID TRANSIT WORKERS IN THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES. I AM NOT KIDDING. 20 YEAR SF RESIDENT HERE WHO IS FED UP WITH THESE UNION THUGS THROWING TEMPER TANTRUMS AND FORCING 800,000 COMMUTERS TO SUFFER EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS. THEY DEMAND MORE PAY EVEN THOUGH THEY MAKE MORE THAN THE AVERAGE SF RESIDENT DOES AND MAKE TWICE AS MUCH AS I DO. I DONT COMPLAIN AND I AM ABLE TO LIVE HERE EVEN WITHOUT RENT CONTROL MAKING *HALF* WHAT THESE MUNI EMPLOYEES MAKE. THEY ARE SHAMELESS PARASITE SCUM! THEY SHOULD HAVE THEIR PAY CUT IN HALF FOR THIS OUTRAGE!

  • rob

    to make it clear, the actual “raise” is actually only 2% for the first year of the contract, which is then raised to 3% during the second year of the contract. Muni drivers currently top out at 29.52 dollars per hour. This would put them at 32.92 roughly. Muni drivers who were hired as of January 1st of 2011, currently pay 7% of their gross income by-weekly. The drivers who were hired before this date currently pay 4%. With the new contract, the drivers would all be paying 11% into their pensions. Mathematically the drivers would be losing all of that 2-3% raise directly into their pension, but they would actually be contributing further into what they were originally taking home pre-new contract, meaning their net income would be lower than it previously was before the “raise”.

  • Peter Middleton

    catch22

  • mon_a

    I say fire them. They will have no problem finding replacements. Sure it would be a commuter hassle during the re-hiring/training process, but I’d ok with that if it meant sending a strong message that they can’t hold the public commuting taxpayers hostage whenever they complain about their already bloated compensation packages.

  • Sharon in SF

    I’m so frustrated with this. Yesterday I could not get to one of my jobs…so I lost that money…I may not be able to get there today…loosing more money. So….I want to support labor,…but who’s gonna pay my rent if this keeps up? OTOH, it occurred to me that the royal THEY have got me right where they want me…middle class pitted against middle class. The more I think about that the more I say…okay..I’ll find a way..I’ll walk…I’ll do with less money this week. But lets get things back on track quickly..I’ve got to be able to get to work.

  • sfparkripoff

    By WILLFULLY IGNORING most of San Francisco’s residents, the Board of
    Supervisors and the MTA have created a master plan that makes no sense at all. It demands that people ride bicycles or use a transit system that DOESN’T WORK!

    All the changes required will be paid for with new taxes, fees, extending parking meter hours, raising parking rates, raising parking fines, installing tolls into San Francisco, plus an assortment of added fees to do what the MTA wants you to do, ride the MUNI.

    Older adults, and people with children who have long term investments in public schools and the community, must compete for attention and funding with Special Interest groups demanding we save the planet by riding bicycles while real estate developers get tax breaks to build huge “luxury” condo complexes without parking spaces in our densest areas.

    It’s become “fashionable” to proclaim grand concepts – Transit First! – without asking what the slogan really means or how it’s supposed to work. City leaders have made us all dependent on transit and then transit turns around and “calls out sick” because they want more money.

    What are the lessons learned from the Muni worker ‘sickout’?

    1. The city cannot count on public transit to be there when we need it.

    2. “transit first” means unions first, and commuters last. 

    3. If BART, CalTrain, or GG Transit fails the entire city will grind to a halt.

    4. There has to be redundancy built into our transit system so that the city has a backup plan for commuters

    5. If the city does not have the infrastructure to support private autos then the city stops generating revenue.

    Its time to RESTORE TRANSPORTATION BALANCE in San Francisco

    http://www.restorebalance14.org/initiative.html

  • think in both sides

    IS THAT ANY PERSON TO THINK ABOUT THE RELATIVE OF MUNI DRIVER? HOW STRESS FOR THEM WHEN THE DRIVER WORK AT MID-NIGHT? AS A SPOUSE OF MUNI DRIVER, I KNOW THEY DIDN’T BRING THAT MUCH HOME AFTER ALL OF DEDUCTION. THE CAN BE ONLY FOR EXPENSE LIKE RENT, CAR PAYMENT SO ON. OUR LIFE EVEN IS NOT BETTER THAT THE PEOPLE WHO GET ASSISTANT FOR GOVEMENT. SOMETIME, WHY DO WE NEED TO WORK HARD, WHY DO WE NEED GET HIGH PAY IN ORDER TO PAY HEALTH INSURANCE, SCHOOL FREE BECAUSE OF “HIGH INCOME”. WE HAVE TO PAY ALL OF STAFF BY OURSELIES. SOMETIME, I WOULD LIKE TO GET INTO WELLFARE SYSTEM AND GET AFFORDABLE IN ORDER TO DO THE MATH EVERY MONTH FOR BALANCING EXPENSE EVEN WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY FOOD. HOW CAN WE SURVIVE IN THIS SITUATION?

  • think in both sides

    I am the spouse of Muni driver, if the net income is less than before, that is not enough to expense for rent 2000, car payments 900 and pre-school free almost 1000 ( they are not qualified for low-income, free based on gross income to pay). Their pay is usually 2500 by-weekly BEFORE DEDUCTION.however, do you know how much they can bring to home. If the family size is 4-5, their children has to buy insurance from their company, that meaning after all of deduction ( taxes, health insurance, pension…) , they only have 1500-1600 to bring home. How does the family of muni driver to survive in san francisoc?

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor