Topics: Labor Unions

San Francisco transit disrupted by worker callouts

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tourists couldn't catch a ride on San Francisco's famed cable cars Tuesday for a second straight day while the rest of the city's transit system experienced delays after drivers called in sick again — a move that came days after the workers overwhelmingly rejected a new labor contract.

The drivers' union president, however, said Tuesday that the labor group has nothing to do with the sick calls and urged those who called out to be prepared to have a doctor's note.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was running at about half of its normal weekday service, officials said. Though that was up from a day earlier, riders were warned that they would still experience significant delays.

"We're doing everything we can to get all of our operators back to work as soon as possible," agency spokesman Paul Rose said Tuesday.

The agency known as Muni runs buses, light rail and street cars in addition to the cable cars and serves about 700,000 passengers each day. Its operators, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, rejected the contract by a 1,198-to-42 vote Friday, according to totals on the union's website.

Eric Williams, the Local 250-A president, declined to comment on operators calling in sick because he said the union had no role in sanctioning the move. He sent a letter to union members Tuesday urging them to only use sick leave for "legitimate purposes."

The workers are not allowed to go on strike, but they can call in sick.

Transit officials said those who reported being sick must confirm they were ill to get sick pay and could be subject to discipline up to being fired.

"Sick leave is available to employees when they or a family member is sick or in need of medical care," Alicia John-Baptiste, the transit agency's chief of staff, wrote in a memo on Monday. "It would be dishonest to claim entitlement to sick leave when these circumstances do not pertain."

Williams told union members "to resume and continue the excellent service we give the public" and that while having a doctor's note is not normal practice, the agency has emphasized it due to the callouts.

Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement that he joins riders throughout the city in their frustration at the drivers who have "irresponsibly abandoned their jobs and intentionally disrupted" service.

"This cannot continue," Lee said. "I say to our drivers, 'People count on you to do your job so they can get to theirs.'"

Most trains and buses running were at capacity.

The contract that Muni workers rejected would have given them a raise of more than 11 percent over two years. However, it also would have required them to cover a 7.5 percent pension payment currently paid by the transit agency, said Rose, the agency spokesman.

The contract would have increased operator pay to $32 an hour, making them the second-highest-paid transit workers in the country, Rose said.

Williams, the union president, called the proposal unfair and said the city had proposed unreasonable takeaways in wages and benefits.

"Our members are hard-working and all we want is fairness," Williams said.

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