San Francisco transit worker sick-out loses momentum

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 04, 2014 2:03 PM

(Reuters) - A sick-out by San Francisco transit workers who have stayed off the job to show distaste for a contract offer lost steam on Wednesday, as most buses and trains were running and officials made plans to restart the city's famed cable cars.

The sick-out by workers, which started on Monday, has hamstrung the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, whose Muni mass transit system normally sees about 700,000 passengers board each day.

An estimated 440 drivers showed up to work on Wednesday, compared to about 600 on a typical day, said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the agency. As a result, over 70 percent of the Muni bus and train system was in service on Wednesday, compared to half on Tuesday and a third on Monday.

"We're cautiously optimistic we're moving in the right direction," Rose said.

The agency hoped to restart service on the city's three cable cars, which are popular with tourists, as early as Wednesday afternoon, he said. They have been shut since Monday.

The sick-out comes after workers with the Transportation Workers Union of America Local 250-A, which represents the agency's bus and rail operators, voted overwhelmingly on Friday to reject a contract proposal from the transportation agency.

The offer would increase the minimum base pay for operators to $32 an hour, Rose said. But the union contends the pay increase offered by the agency in a two-year contract does not adequately compensate for increased pension contributions the workers have been asked to make.

An arbitrator will issue a binding decision on the terms of the contract on Saturday, Rose said.

Eric Williams, president of the union, urged workers in a memo on Tuesday to use sick days only for "legitimate purposes" and told them the transportation agency was requiring workers to provide a doctor's note if they want to claim sick pay.

Muni workers are prohibited from striking under the terms of their contract and the city charter, Rose said.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had expressed frustration at the sick-out on Tuesday. "People count on you to do your job so they can get to theirs," he said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Loney)