Let The Crazy BS Begin! AKA The Myth of “Driver Pay” Being the Main Reason the MTA Is In the Hole

As someone who supported Proposition G, watching the opening salvos in the media, from both TWU Local 250 A (operators’ union) and the $100,000 PR folks the MTA hired (who never send us any of their press releases, hint hint) has been an extremely depressing experience.
That’s because the huff-and-puff rhetoric on both sides ensures a sh!tstorm for the next few months, and the likelihood that whatever we end up with won’t serve anyone. Employee morale? Improved service? A contract that is fair to all (owner/riders, operators, taxpayers, the agency)? Fuggedabout it.
That’s because the agency is taking the tack that “driver pay” is the Only Thing Killing the Agency (not true), and the union is taking the attitude of “it’s not our job to care about the agency’s problems, unlike other unions who made sacrifices” (also, not true). The end result is well-funded antagonism, a flurry of stupid blog comments, and once again an agency that is adrift, leaderless and not being honest with themselves, the public or its employees.
There is no doubt that there are things in the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the agency and the union contains legacy clauses left over from decades past, and all sorts of weird clauses that cause the infamous “pay me not to show up to work” situation, and so on lead to significant costs to the agency, and any sane person would agree they shouldn’t be there. No one is served by them, and the promise of G was simply that under collective bargaining (you know, that thing everyone supported in Wisconsin?) there’d be a way to negotiate these out, or take them to an impartial arbitrator. Anyone who thought G was a Magic Cure-All to all the agency’s problems was smoking ground up unicorn dust. Fixing these problems is merely one of many Big Changes the agency needs if it is to function properly.

Think about it like this – if there was one cure for cancer, cancer would be cured. Likewise with Muni and the MTA – if there was, in fact, only one cause for its woes, then yes, we could fix it easily.
Let’s push aside the crazy for a moment and look at this thing called “history” and see how we got into this mess. For anyone to deny that the illegal looting of hundreds of millions of dollars, first by (thank GOD) ex-Governor Schwarzenegger and his Democrat allies in the Legislature, via the stolen gas tax money had no effect on the MTA, is to deny a basic truth.
If I were to pull out a gun, and go up to someone and steal 1/4 or more of their salary, then ask them to keep making their house payments, sans income, one would say that would be cruel, yes? And yet, the agency, particularly in the form of longtime board members whose background is primarily in suburban politics, deny this and refuse to consider a serious replacement for that stable revenue.
Relying on regressive and unpredictable things like “parking ticket fines” shows just how buried in the sand the collective leadership of the MTA and City Hall seem to be in right now. Such measures won’t work in the long term. Likewise, expecting to make up a huge gap (not to mention restoring all those cuts Nat Ford bragged about while Prince Newsom was “mayor”) solely from parking tickets and worker concessions isn’t going to work. Alas, whenever you talk about such issues using reason and not BS, no one wants to listen.
In the end, it’s a Battle of the Titans. The agency, via its $100,000 PR contractor, will amp up the rhetoric and be sure to fire up the editorial writers to demonize the operators. The union, via its various apparatii, will continue their mix of “f*ck you” and “poor picked on me,” which has been working oh so well. Meanwhile the public will think that there’s a magic Jedi crystal that will solve all the agency’s problems, all the while watching management pick up big pay, and watching drivers text on their devices.
No one wins, and those of us who backed Prop. G in good faith will likely see another good idea get garbled by the dysfunction that is San Francisco politics.
PS: I have yet to hear one mayoral candidate speak out on any of this, or present any sort of vision on what they’d do as Mayor. It’s almost May and you hear little from these folks besides begging for money via the Internet. I sure would like to hear something substantial from one of these folks, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ll try and revive the Muni Rider Voter Guide this year, but it’s a project I sure could use some assistance with, so if you’re interested, please email me.
PS 2, Electric Boogaloo:I’m also challenging the MTA (via in house or outside PR operation) and TWU’s spokespeople to a) put me on their email list and b) be willing to answer questions once in a while as things go forth. I have my opinions, and we all know what they are, but I also won’t rewrite quotes or other nonsense that happens sometimes. I’m just curious to hear why either side has the moral high ground here – so far I’ve heard nothing from either side that’s making me have a lot of faith in ’em.
PS 3:Here’s an old example of how wiring this kind of stuff into the City Charter is a bad idea, and one of the reasons for passing Prop. G. Way back in the Olden Days, streetcars needed two people to operate the cars safely. Eventually a requirement that all streetcars have 2 operators was wired into the Charter. As technology changed, and 2-man crews were no longer necessary, moving personnel to other functions was impossible. In the end the rule was changed, but it took a lot of work to do so. Legacy rules that aren’t cleaned out serve no one well.

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