SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco Municipal Railway’s transit operators’ union has informed Muni officials that its members have voted to authorize a strike if labor negotiations break down, a Muni spokesman said Friday. The move comes despite the fact that the union’s current contract has a no-strike clause.
Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents the roughly 2,200 operators of Muni’s buses and light-rail vehicles, began a vote last Friday that would authorize its leaders to call a strike, union Secretary-Treasurer Walter Scott said.
Scott said Friday that he could not get into the specifics of the vote, which ended Thursday, until union officials are able to notify all of their members of the results.
But Muni spokesman Charlie Goodyear confirmed that the union informed San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency management that the strike authorization was approved.
The vote came after a general membership meeting last month in which concerns were raised about clauses in the city charter that he said have not been honored by the SFMTA, but the union has not actually threatened to strike, Scott said.
The union’s current contract has a no-strike clause, but Scott said earlier this week that the clause is “open for legal interpretation” and has “never been tested.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement following news of the strike authorization that his office “will take appropriate legal recourse” in the event of a threatened or actual strike.
Herrera said the terms of the current agreement establish procedures for binding arbitration before a neutral third party to resolve bargaining impasses.
“We hope and expect that TWU Local 250-A will abide by the terms of the contract and the (city) charter as they seek to resolve their differences with the SFMTA,” Herrera said.
The vote comes during the second month of negotiations between the two sides, Goodyear said.
The agency and union are “working through each other’s proposals and suggestions,” he said. “Both sides seem to be working constructively here.”
Scott said he also “felt pretty good about the process and how it’s going with the MTA negotiating team.”
The negotiations between the two sides are the first since San Francisco voters approved Proposition G last November.
The proposition changed parts of the city charter that required Muni drivers to be paid the second-highest operator salaries in the country, and requires contracts be negotiated through collective bargaining and binding arbitration, similar to other city employees.
Some city officials have been critical of the union’s decision to vote to authorize a strike.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Scott Wiener called it “incredibly tone deaf.”
Wiener said the passage of Proposition G provides “a unique opportunity to reform Muni” and “an opportunity in a horrific budget year to help the MTA save some money.”
The agency, which faces a projected budget deficit of about $18 million, is proposing to save money by eliminating inefficient work rules and making changes to the salaries and benefits of its employees, Goodyear said.
He said the average transit operator currently makes about $101,000 per year in salary and benefits.
Scott said the union was open to making concessions, including contributing to their retirement benefits and agreeing to a wage freeze.
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