San Francisco’s bus, streetcar and cable car operators need to have their salaries put under control. The University of San Francisco is intimately tied to our fair City, so it follows that USF students are, for better or for worse, well-acquainted with the service provided by the San Francisco Municipal Railway, more commonly known as Muni.
While there are a myriad of factors as to why Muni services are known to be sporadic and slow, the main reason is the consistent financial constraint the agency has experienced in recent months.
In December 2009, Muni was faced with a multi-million dollar budget deficit. In response, the agency was forced to consider implementing cuts all across Muni’s system, reducing service on many lines and even eliminating some routes altogether in the hopes of coming up with a presentable balance sheet.
By February 2010, Muni was in the hole again. Public meetings held by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (which oversees Muni) were filled with incensed San Franciscans protesting yet another round of service cuts and increased fares.
On July 1, 2010, after these two waves of service cuts and fare hikes had taken effect, Muni operators benefited from a contractually mandated 5.5 percent raise in pay, gaining the dubious distinction of being the only Municipal workers to have their salaries augmented.
How can this be? Out of all city employees in San Francisco (and there are many), Muni operators are the only workers to have their names locked into San Francisco’s city charter, i.e. the City’s constitution. Their exclusive place in the charter guarantees them the second highest salaries of any transit operators in the nation regardless of such influences as drastically reduced funding from state and federal sources. It also shields them from having to negotiate their salaries through the process of collective bargaining as do other city employees, such as San Francisco’s police officers and firefighters.
It comes as no surprise then that an initiative written by city Supervisor Sean Elsbernd was presented to the public proposing that Muni workers have their special status in the charter removed. By the end of July 2010, supporters of what is now known as Proposition G presented over 70,000 signatures to have the measure placed on this November’s ballot—well over the required 44,800 signatures needed to qualify a measure.
It also comes as no surprise that Muni operators are crying foul over Proposition G. Proposition G detractors like to paint themselves as the “little guys” who are being steamrolled under the monstrous forces of Muni management. This is, of course, a grossly oversimplified if not a blatantly incorrect claim. Citizens are not crusading to slash Muni operators’ salaries; they are just subjecting Muni employees to the same bargaining processes as the rest of San Francisco public employees. No more, no less.
In the aforementioned times of painful budget reconciliation, Muni labor rejected nearly every offer from management to reduce costs and balance the budget, claming it was unfair to employees. To then rally against pay raises is selfish and foolish considering the city’s vital means of transportation are at stake and standing on shaky financial footing. As someone who tends to side with the “little guys”, I have to switch stands and fault Muni labor for not making any concessions in a time when a financially strapped San Francisco desperately needs every bit of help it can to keep running smoothly and to keep from going under.
In simpler terms, the classic “little guy” who needs help would now be the political candidate targeted by corporations who have been granted the power to use their resources limitlessly to back political campaigns. The little guy is not a powerful union whose exclusive status in a city constitution ensures a pay raise for its members while city denizens continue to suffer from cuts in a vital public service.
Vicente Patiño is a sophomore architecture major
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain
Opinion Editor: Laura Waldron