June 13--Talks between the Municipal Transportation Agency and the Muni operators union had resumed after last week's sickout, but they were broken off again Wednesday night by union representatives, MTA officials said Thursday.
Transportation Director Ed Reiskin sent a letter to Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Eric Williams urging the union to come back to the bargaining table and warning that if it does not reach an agreement through the process mandated by the City Charter, drivers will not get a raise.
"We hope the union will reconsider its refusal to participate in the mediation-arbitration process and will instead move forward to achieve a timely contract that will reward the transit operators with wage increases and other important benefits of which they are deserving," he wrote.
Union officials could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.
The MTA and the union have been in negotiations since February, but have been unable to reach an agreement. In keeping with the City Charter, which prohibits strikes, the agency and union began meeting with an independent arbitrator and developed a mediated agreement that calls for 11.25 percent in raises over two years but requires workers to make a 7.5 percent contribution to their pensions. The city makes that payment now.
Union members overwhelmingly rejected the proposed contract on May 30 by a vote of 1,198-47.
Three days later, hundreds of Muni operators called in sick, which led to the cancellation of about two-thirds of bus, streetcar and Metro service. Cable cars were shut down entirely.
People who rely on Muni had to wait as long as an hour or find another way to get where they were going. The situation improved slightly over the next two days but the unusually high number of absences still left Muni with deeply compromised service. Union officials insisted they had nothing to do with the sickout and that it was organized by members without the union's knowledge.
Service returned to normal levels by the end of the week, and on Friday, the union and MTA met with the mediator-arbitrator to discuss issues each side had filed with the Public Employment Relations Board. Those talks turned into discussions on the labor dispute and continued this week before breaking off.
Under the City Charter, the MTA must publicly disclose its contract offer by Sunday; the MTA board is scheduled to do so Friday. MTA spokesman Paul Rose said the agency plans to disclose the mediated agreement -- the one rejected by members -- to comply with the charter. That would allow the two sides and the mediator until June 24 to resume talks, he said. The contract expires June 30, and the MTA needs to have a deal approved by its board, the Board of Supervisors and the mayor by then.
If no contract is in place at that time, the current compensation and benefits would remain in place for a year, Rose said. Drivers, who have gone without a raise for three years, would again forgo a pay increase. But they would also avoid having to make the pension contribution.
Rose said the letter was merely an attempt to get talks restarted. "The main point is we're trying to get everyone talking again," he said.
Rose said the MTA doesn't anticipate a sickout or other job action, sanctioned or unsanctioned, by its operators.
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ctuan
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