S.F. MUNI Workers Were Right To Vote “NO”

Last week San Francisco MUNI workers, who drive buses, streetcars and cable cars in San Francisco, voted down the latest transit contract proposal 994 to 488. This is the third time in 18 months the workers have rejected a contract proposal full of takeaways. The MUNI workers had good reasons to say “No” to this latest contract. The contract freezes their wages for three years, and will drastically cut overtime pay. But beyond that, it eliminates the union role in scheduling which means that the realities of driving no longer would be taken into account. It puts management in charge of deciding who is at fault in an accident (which means the worker’s voice is silenced). And it changes rules for discipline to favor management. And these are just the items that have been made public.
MUNI workers, like AC transit drivers and BART workers, have been under attack by their bosses and the media. Over the past years, there have been reductions to the workforce with more pressure, stress and speedup for those who are left. This has resulted in cuts in service, increased problems with safety and maintenance. The transit agencies and the politicians have played on the public’s dissatisfaction with service, by blaming transit workers for all of these problems. Of course when you cut staffing and pressure fewer workers to do more – you get less. We have all seen this on our own jobs. But whose fault is that?
The media has been full of attacks on MUNI drivers, portraying them as overpaid, lazy, rude and incompetent. There has been a well-orchestrated campaign to turn other workers against the MUNI drivers, saying they are greedy and unwilling to sacrifice like other workers. The transit bosses hired a PR firm to conduct a campaign to turn the public against the workers. This campaign fed into a ballot measure openly attacking MUNI workers by cutting the wage protections they had through the city charter.
After voting the contract down, the MUNI workers are being told that the contract will go to binding arbitration, which usually goes in management’s favor. Weeks ago the workers voted to authorize their union officials to call a strike. But unfortunately these are the same union officials who tried to sell them this lousy contract, telling them it was the best they could expect. With this kind of attitude from the union officials there isn’t much the workers can expect from them.
Still, the workers were right to vote their contract down. But a vote alone is not enough. If they leave the contract’s outcome in the hands of the arbiter or their union officials we can easily guess what the outcome will be. The only way to have a different outcome would be if the 2200 MUNI workers themselves decided to organize a real fight. Such a fight would have to go beyond MUNI. It would have to be spread to other workers in San Francisco and the Bay Area who also have been under attack. And the MUNI workers would have to appeal to the hundreds of thousands of other workers who ride MUNI every day.
In California, the ninth largest economy in the world, home to major banks, corporations, millionaires and billionaires there is more than enough money to pay for good mass transit and also enough to pay workers decent wages and guarantee good working conditions too. But to get that money will take a major fight. But without a fight both drivers and passengers will continue to pay for the bosses’ crisis.