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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tangling With Muni Union Helped Make Mayor Frank Jordan Into Ex-Mayor Jordan

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 2:05 PM

click to enlarge A number of work rules that may have made sense when this bus was new are still in Muni's union contract...
  • A number of work rules that may have made sense when this bus was new are still in Muni's union contract...
As many folks steaming on Muni know, the drivers' union last week spurned concessions that would have saved the city some $15 million -- while accepting city charter-mandated raises for $8 million -- even as the moribund system contemplates hacking service and raising fares.

If ever there were a moment for angry passengers, politicians, and others to start passing out the pitchforks and torches, this would seem to be it. Well, don't hold your breath. Pushing a Muni boycott to a transit-dependent ridership one scant week before the end of the month -- in the rain -- seems like a surefire loser. And while Supervisor Sean Elsbernd isn't backing down from his Charter Amendment assailing drivers' pay, taking on Muni and other unions has converted a number of San Francisco politicians into ex-politicians.

Take former Mayor Frank Jordan. He made fighting Muni's arcane work rules a key issue. Now he has much more time to work on his golf swing.

"I found out from personal experience -- when they have something , they never want to give it up," he said of his battles with the Transit Workers Union in the mid-1990s. "I had eight or nine work rules I wanted to change. I could not get even one."

Frank Jordan
  • Frank Jordan
Others have written about some of the jaw-dropping work rules in Muni's union contract. Jordan lived it. A number of the work rules he actually offered the union raises to dump -- and was spurned -- are still firmly in place. The most problematic: Muni operators can simply blow off work with minimal reparcussions.

Per the union contract, it's only after a driver racks up "3 AWOLs or 3 unexcused absences" in a two-month period that he or she is ineligible to earn overtime by working on a day off (though, to be fair, three AWOLs within an eight-month period can technically get you fired). It is unclear what, exactly, the distinction is between "AWOL" and an "unexcused absence" -- though it's intriguing that both categories exist. Incidentally -- when a driver doesn't show up, another one, earning overtime, must take his or her place.

"They told me 'We've never gone against an incumbent mayor. Don't put us in a position to do it now,'" recalled Jordan. "I said, 'I've got to.' So they went straight to Willie Brown. He said 'you can have your work rules and I'll give you the pay raise, too.' He sees this as politics at its best. I see it as politics at its worst."

Muni union president Irwin Lum told SF Weekly he feels like he and his colleagues are under attack -- and pointed out that it was Muni management that assigned out drivers to earn fat overtime paychecks (and you won't starve on a Muni manager's salary, by the way). Lum's certainly not all wrong -- but, God bless him, his union makes it so easy for folks to lose their temper.

He and his fellow union members will convene sometime this week to decide what to do -- or not do -- with regards to a concession package. Can they make San Franciscans feel sympathetic for Muni CEO Nat Ford -- who is paid more than a Supreme Court Justice and will draw that salary even if he begins drop-kicking his minions off the top of 1 South Van Ness? You'd think it would be impossible. You'd think...

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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