June 04--San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed legal charges Wednesday to halt a three-day sickout of Muni operators as the transit agency limped through another day of reduced service.
Muni managed to roll out more buses and trains than on either Monday or Tuesday as the protest against a proposed labor contract continued to affect the Bay Area's busiest transit system.
Muni operators, like all city employees, are prohibited from striking. Herrera's filings with the state Public Employment Relations Board contend that the sickout is illegal, as is the union's refusal to participate in an arbitration hearing mandated by the City Charter.
"This is an unfortunate attempt by the union to get around a law and contract provisions they don't like," Herrera said. "The Charter is clear that an impasse such as this one is resolved with neutral arbitration. Let's do what the law says, begin the arbitration process and get San Francisco moving again as soon as humanly possible."
While the sickout continued to hobble the transit system on Wednesday, service seemed considerably improved.
Buses and light-rail vehicles, which had been spread across the city in a makeshift effort to haul as many passengers as possible Monday and Tuesday, returned to their regular routes, but the Municipal Transportation Agency still reported a serious shortage of transit operators reporting to work.
Cable car service was canceled, and only 440 of Muni's 600 vehicles were on the street. Those numbers were a steady improvement from Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday, the day operators unleashed the protest with large numbers calling in sick, Muni could only operate about a third of its service. The transit agency managed to send out about half of its service on Tuesday. Frustrated commuters reported enduring hour-long waits those days.
Service Wednesday was noticeably more robust with Muni Metro trains and buses showing up more frequently and stations and bus stops far less crowded than earlier in the week. But passengers still said they faced longer-than-usual waits.
"I'm always late," said Christine Tuca, 21. "I'm getting tired of it."
Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the agency hopes the sickout continues to wane, but advised riders to be prepared for continued reduced service.
"We encourage riders to allow for extra time for their commute," he said. "We're certainly moving in the right direction and are cautiously optimistic that things are improving."
The grassroots action is an attempt to circumvent a city law banning strikes. Union leaders said they had nothing to do with the sickout and, therefore, cannot call it off or predict its end.
The disruption could continue through the end of the week -- or beyond. On Saturday, an arbitrator is scheduled to meet with negotiators from labor and management.
The sickout follows Muni operators' overwhelming rejection of a mediated contract proposal that calls for about 11.25 percent in raises over two years in exchange for workers paying 7.5 percent in pension contributions now covered by the MTA.
In a statement Tuesday, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A officials said bus drivers, cable car operators and other transit workers had voted 1,198 to 47 against the proposed contract.
Union leaders said they had offered to return to the bargaining table, but that Muni declined to do so. But, according to the city attorney's complaint, union officials have refused to attend.
"We hope they show up," said Gabriel Zitrin, spokesman for the city attorney's office.
Michael Cabanatuan and Evan Sernoffsky are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Twitter: @ctuan, @EvanSernoffsky
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