Advocates for Muni drivers came to the Guardian this week to make the case for voters to reject Proposition G, which would remove their pay guarantees from the city charter, and to argue that the union has been unfairly demonized by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sup. Sean Elsbernd and other city officials in an effort to deflect blame for problems with the troubled transit system.
The group included top Transport Workers Union Local 250A officials Irwin Lum and Rafael Cabrera, Bob Planthold with Senior Action Network, and Frank Lara with More Public Transit Coalition (which was spearheaded by the ANSWER Coalition). “Muni is broken and needs drastic change. It needs to be changed from the top to the bottom,” Lum began.
Yet he said targeting Muni drivers, most of whom are people of color doing a difficult job in one of the country's most complex systems, doesn't solve a problem that goes far beyond work rules and salaries. The problem lies with lack of resources and the political will to pursue them, they said, which is why the union supported proposals to reform the Municipal Transportation Authority governing structure and pursue significant revenue options, which were discussed but ultimately abandoned by the Board of Supervisors earlier this year.
“Too many people at City Hall are looking to cover their political rear ends,”said Planthold, who advocates for the rights of those with disabilities and has studied transit systems around the country.
Newsom has repeatedly singled out TWU as the one public employee union that didn't agree to givebacks to help close the city's budget deficit, and even some progressives have told the Guardian that the union hasn't done itself any favors with its intransigent stance. But Lum said union leaders were prepared try to sell their members on a deal that included forgoing raises and accepting unpaid furlough days but that Newsom was too quick to leak news of the deal to the media for political reasons, causing TWU members to dig in and reject the deal before that education process could begin.
While the city and MTA may save $10 million through the measure, they said that was small change compared to the system's real needs, which they estimated to be around $125 million, much of which could be brought in by creating transit assessment districts to charge big employers whose workers rely on Muni.
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