I figured I’d start the week with a bang, and talk about this Fix Muni Now campaign that just started gathering signatures for a November amendment to the City’s Charter (a local constitution, if you will).
After being against the measure, when I’d heard the concept of it, I am now for it, after doing a significant amount of research the last month or so (related to the Big Project which will be rolling out shortly).
This wasn’t an easy conclusion, but I spent a lot of time reading up on everything from “memorandums of understanding” to the charter amendment itself, as well as talk to many experts of all types, and it’s one of those things that is unfortunately necessary when you have a City Charter that’s been amended and re-amended as many times as ours has.
The fact that we have to vote on arcane policy within one city department regarding one of many of its classes of employees to ensure it’s managed properly still drives me nuts – I personally do not care, nor did I want to know the minutiae of the workings of one subset of the MTA’s employees – but this unfortunately is necessary course correction for the agency, and we have to vote on it.
To make this a bit easier to read, I’m going to do a pretend “Q&A” about the measure, that hopefully will make sense. Click through and learn more about this thing.
Q: OMG! This ballot measure is a direct attack on unions, workers, the weekend and democracy! How dare you support this anti union measure cooked up by right wing zealots! I’m gonna march in a protest against you!
A: This is most definitely not an anti union measure. All this is going to do is have the only unionized city employees who currently do not engage in collective bargaining do so. No other union in the City has this unique status – not the police, firefighters, other union employees at the MTA/Muni, not health care workers or other city service providers. (It should be noted that all of the city’s union employees have suffered layoffs, cutbacks and more – but not Muni drivers.)
By having one union’s pay locked into the city’s Charter, Muni has no way to negotiate or have any flexiblity with only one union’s members – even if the economy goes in the toilet (as it has). This simply has one union do exactly what every other union does and what and union orgainzing campaign strives for – collective bargaining that’s fair.
Q: Oh yeah! I’m gunna get my Pinkerton on! By voting for this, I’ll cut those mean Muni drivers’ pay in half, and I’m gunna bust the unions! Woo hoo!
A: Sorry, but there’s nothing in this measure regarding pay. The concept of “driver pay” being the only thing that is causing Muni pain and suffering is patent bullsh*t. All this measure does, as stated, is have the union negotiate through collective bargaining. If there’s an impasse, the negotiations are sent to a neutral arbitrator, and that’s it. There’s nothing in this measure that says that their pay will be cut by a little – or a lot – the negotiations will decide those things. So if you’re in to sticking it to people, well, sorry, you’re outta luck.
Q: Wait, I’m confused. If this thing doesn’t bust unions, but also doesn’t affect pay rates directly, and is just about doing what all the other unions do, then why are we voting on it again? And how is this going to help?
A: Good question. Because only one union (TWU – the drivers’ union) has their pay rates locked into the charter, tied to the pay rates of other agencies, there’s no way to negotiate this in bad times. Also, you can’t negotiate the myriad of “work rules” which regulate how Muni operates with regards to its drivers. Many of these rules result in odd situations (such as people getting overtime pay before they’ve worked 40 hours) that create cost overruns. Other rules make it very difficult for Muni to manage its operations and respond to what’s going on (that’s why you have delays and other things that drive you nuts). Also note that half of all overtime paid by the city goes to…Muni*.
One key provision of the amendment is that if during arbitration, a work rule is challenged for making things more expensive and inefficient, it will then become the union’s job to defend them, or see said archaic work rule go away.
Q: But I was told that we had this crazy system to ensure “labor peace” and that without it, the bus drivers will go on strike one day. How will I get to school? How will I get to the store? BART went on strike, yes?
A: That’s what I was told too, and why I was initially against this thing. I’m proud to say after much study on the subject, I was wrong. In the 1970s there was a significant strike, including one by the police, that got really really ugly, so a charter amendment was passed forbidding strikes by any city unions. This means that if said charter amendment passes, no one at Muni is getting to go on strike. Ever.
BART is organized differently than the MTA and Muni, and they don’t have a “no strike” clause in their contracts, so that’s why they had a strike not too long ago.
So there you have it. Trust me, after reading way more on this, and other things about Muni lately, it’s one of these “annoying but necessary” things we have to do. That same research also led me to realize that bashing drivers isn’t good policy , nor is it correct, and I’m hoping that the Fix Muni Now campaign will keep things above board, which I’m sure they will. Likewise, we can expect a lot of glossy mailers and more from a lot of people who will stuff your mailbox and robocall the Hell out of your phone with all sorts of distortions.
Ultimately, as the owner/rider of Muni, you need to decide what’s best for your transit system and vote accordingly.
*Fun Fact: Muni accounts for about 50% of all overtime paid by the city. But police and firefighters, while as a percentage overtime costs are far less, the actual amount of money paid for said police and fire department overtime is almost the same as the amount of overtime cash paid to Muni.