SF MUNI fare hike/ fare strike
- MUNI Riders and Workers at the Ultimate Paypoint
Several months ago we published an article by Idelfonso Rodriguez
("MUNI in trouble: Newsom and Burns Want Riders and Workers to Pay")
which explained in great detail the financial and political
wrangling going on due to MUNI managements' proposal to deal with
their analysis that they had a projected $57 million dollar budget
deficit for the coming year.
To make up this deficit they proposed drastic cuts in MUNI service
and bus routes which would result in the layoff of up to 150 MUNI
drivers. All the part-time driver shifts on MUNI have been
eliminated and lower seniority workers may be pushed out.
A few of the details have changed since then, but come September San
Francisco public transit users and drivers will be getting decreased
MUNI service, higher parking fees and transit workers may yet
And of course service cuts will take place on the bus lines that
most directly serve working class riders and students in the Western
Addition, Richmond, Mission, Excelsior and Bayview Hunters Point
districts of the city. Bus fares will be increased (from $1.25 to
$1.50) and cable car fares will go up from $3 to $5, and rates for
parking meters, parking tickets, residential parking permits and
parking fines will be increased.
There is some good news, though. MUNI general manager Michael Burns
will be leaving to go be the general manager of the transit system
in Silicon Valley (where they are experiencing service cuts, fee
hikes and layoffs). This means of course that Newsom and his
appointed MTA board will get to choose the new MUNI manager.
MUNI also found more money as real estate sales tax revenues were a
little higher than expected and more state funds were diverted to
the agency. As a result the price for Fast Passes, and Senior, Youth
and Disability passes will not increase.
The Fight Over the Budget
A coalition of MUNI riders and members of the Board of Supervisors
raised a ruckus about proposed MUNI fare increases and service cuts.
The Coalition for Transit Justice (C4TJ) held several rallies in
front of City Hall and also presented 3,000 signatures of MUNI
riders to the Board of Supervisors to protest the proposed MUNI fare
increases and service cuts. However, they seemed to strongly support
increased rates for parking meters and increased fees for parking
fines, residential parking permits and increased parking garage
rates as ways to increase funding for MUNI, while they somewhat
ambiguously called for "downtown to pay its fare share."
Unfortunately, the ability to set the levels of service cuts and
increases in fares and other "funding" increases is left mostly to
MUNI's general manager and the six members appointed by Mayor Newsom
to the Metropolitan Transit Agency (MTA) board on which the MUNI
General Manager also serves.
Under the provisions of Proposition E, passed in 1999, the San
Francisco Board of Supervisors (BOS) does not have the ability to
alter individual items in the MUNI budget or service. It can only
voice its approval or rejection of the whole budget (which
determines the service) as formulated by the MTA.
At the end of May the BOS began debating one of the issues that it
does have some control over. One of the proposals to raise more
money for MUNI was to increase the money collected from parking
meters around the city. The MTA board includes responsibility for
parking and the BOS does meet as the San Francisco County
Transportation Authority, which has its own limited responsibilities
for MUNI and Parking and Traffic services in the city.
At the June 24th BOS meeting, the C4TJ and their supporters on the
BOS (Ammiano, Daly, and Mirkarimi) resorted to putting up a fight
over a parking meter rate increases as the way to find increased
funding for MUNI in order to avoid the proposed fare hikes and
service cuts. There was also an initial reading and vote on the
overall MUNI budget.
At first it looked like the BOS wasn't going to allow public comment
on MUNI's budget. The C4TJ supporters loudly chanted for the right
to speak. Supervisor Chris Daly spurred them on as BOS president
Aaron Peskin tried to quiet them down, assuring them they would have
a place to speak. Depite Peskin's efforts, the BOS was recessed
until the C4TJ stopped chanting. The BOS reconvened and more than 50
people spoke out against MUNI fare increases and service cuts.
In the BOS debate over parking meter fees, Ross Mirkarimi made two
proposals to increase parking meter rates. Both measures failed and
the BOS finally agreed on the rate proposed by Jake McGoldrick,
which apparently was part of an agreement worked out with Mayor
Newsom. Ammiano, Daly, and Mirkarimi opposed it.
In subsequent BOS meetings a ballot initiative proposal (proposed by
Ammiano) to give the BOS more control over the MTA Board, and
indirectly the MUNI budget, was developed and passed (Prop D on this
November's ballot). If approved by the voters, it would allow the
BOS to select three of the members of the MTA board that sets MUNI's
Yet to be taken up strongly are proposals and ballot initiatives
that would make MUNI directly responsible to the public and insure
that those who benefit the most from MUNI actually pay for it. It
would be good to see a ballot initiative for an elected MUNI MTA
board. Of course a ballot initiative for MUNI to be funded by tax
assessment on the large downtown corporations, which benefit the
most from MUNI service, is in order too. Time passes as the
progressives on the BOS wait to act on such progressive actions.
As was predicted in the last issue of Frontlines, MUNI Riders and
workers are being asked to pay to keep MUNI running. Of course the
deal means getting less for more, which is why there are a number of
people proposing other actions to deal with the situation.
Can't Pay, Won't Pay
There is a growing group of people proposing a more direct method to
oppose the fare increases proposed for MUNI. The proposal is for
MUNI riders not to pay at all when they get on the bus and for MUNI
drivers to not hassle people for fares, (otherwise known as a fare
strike) when the fare hike and service cuts go into effect on
September 1st. Similar actions have taken place in Chicago and Los
Angeles in the last couple of years and have helped stop fare hikes.
While handing out leaflets at 16th and Mission to support the call
for the fare strike, Marc Norton (of San Franciscans for Tax
Justice) told the SF Examiner "We shouldn't be paying more to wait
longer In a $5 billion [City] budget, if they really want to find
the money, they can."
Marc and others from a group called MUNI Fare Strike have been
fliering throughout the City when they can, and have provided
funding for several day laborers to flier on a more regular basis
and to ensure the effort includes the Spanish-speaking community.
They've also lined up legal support for fare strikers who receive
citations during the fare strike, with a handful of lawyers from the
National Lawyers Guild and a number of volunteers. Joining them are
supporters of a group called Social Strike.
The activists have been reaching out to drivers as well, and have
translated fliers into Chinese, Korean, and other languages to make
sure the effort is inclusive. Though an activist from Anarchist
Action was opposed to working with other groups, most participants
ignored the hostility and welcomed the efforts at building a broad-
More information on the fare strike can be found at
info@... or by calling (415) 267-4801.
Meanwhile at the Bus Barn
Drivers at MUNI have been active in opposing service cuts too. When
MUNI cuts service, it makes drivers' jobs harder. When MUNI cuts
service, less buses running results in drivers having less or no
time at the end of the line for breaks, bathroom use and meals. Less
buses means more crowded buses and stressed bus riders. All of this
adds up to increased stress for drivers, which is why hypertension
is at record highs among bus drivers.
From this you could conclude that the number of bus runs is a health
and safety issue for bus drivers. Which is part of the reason why
two veteran bus drivers, Victor Grayson and Bari Mcgruder, have been
active in opposing MUNI's proposed service cuts.
Grayson and Mcgruder are members of Transport Workers Union Local
250A (TWU 250A). In recent meetings of their local they helped pass
resolutions to oppose MUNI service cuts. The resolutions called on
their local not to participate in sign ups (in which drivers choose
work assignments) that cut runs. This could prevent service cuts and
lay-offs at MUNI.
Recently, cable car operators, led by TWU 250A union president Bill
Sisk, conducted a wildcat strike to oppose MUNI's attempt to fire a
couple cable car operators. However, when Grayson and Mcgruder spoke
out publicly about a wildcat strike to support a potential strike by
BART and other Bay Area transit workers, Bill Sisk wasn't so
In fact on June 28th, Grayson and Mcgruder were brought up on
charges by Sisk and other leaders of their union. In an article in
the June 17th SF Examiner, Grayson and Mcgruder stated they were in
support of the idea that MUNI drivers should go on strike in support
of BART workers. Sisk alleged that Grayson and Mcgruder had violated
provisions of Local 250A bylaws and part of the TWU international
constitution by speaking out publicly in the SF Examiner.
The TWU 250A June 28th 3-member trial board sustained the charges
made by Sisk against Grayson and Mcgruder. The sustained charges
mean that Grayson and Mcgruder are prevented from attending union
meetings and running for union office for the next three years. They
are also fined $1500 on top of that and still must pay their union
Mcgruder told an SF Bay Guardian reporter, "They said we were doing
something detrimental to the union by speaking out They tried to
say we're airing the union's private business That's garbage.
There's no gag order in the bylaws."
Grayson and Mcgruder have appealed these outrageous actions to the
international union. Grayson points out that the trial board was
composed of people who are close to Sisk and other current leaders
of the union. That the board had obvious conflicts of interests is
clear to Grayson.
Grayson has been an active critic of the current leaders of TWU 250A
for a long time. And they have actively opposed him too. The last
time Grayson ran for union office he was the only candidate that met
the union bylaw requirements to run for office.
The TWU 250A bylaws require that a candidate attend two union
meetings, which meet the local's quorum requirement (50 members), to
be eligible to run for office. The union let people who didn't meet
that requirement run against Grayson. So the action as a result of
the June 28th union hearing wasn't exactly a surprise to Grayson.
The action taken by the union was stronger than any taken by MUNI
management. MUNI GM Burns wrote Grayson and Mcgruder a letter
reminding them that MUNI had a no-strike clause in their agreement
with the union. Ironically, union president Sisk wrote a letter to
MUNI management warning them not to take any action against Grayson
and Mcgruder for speaking out!
The TWU 250A leaders are shooting themselves in the foot. The
activism of Grayson and McGruder is the type of activity the union
should be supporting building solidarity with the riders, the
community at large, and other public transit workers. The various
isolated attempts to address the fare hikes, the service cuts and
the layoffs either won't work, harm other interest groups or don't
go far enough.
The fare strike planned for September 1st offers a chance to build
solidarity among the various groups. Activists have been working to
include drivers in the plan and have been reaching out to fellow
riders, and the effort is growing. To the extent that the action is
based on solidarity, and doesn't promote antagonism between riders
and drivers, we support it and look forward to more joint efforts
among riders, workers and the public.