High-decibel left-wing radical labor activist Steve Zeltser is a ubiquitous presence during public comment at government meetings, early morning weekend gatherings of fellow left-wing radical labor activists, or anywhere labor strife and placard-waving converges.
The ubiquitous activist's ubiquitous message? Tax the billionaires, tax the developers, tax the bankers, and nationalize the banks.
Whether one agrees with that message or not, it's an easy one to tune out when it comes so readily, so predictably, and so often -- even when it's shouted into one's ear from a mere meter away. But, today, the city is ensnarled in a massive public transit SNAFU courtesy of a "sickout" orchestrated by Muni drivers, disgruntled over contentious labor negotiations. Muni management is reporting that some two-thirds of its scheduled runs were not made today due to a sudden and massive outbreak of Muni Monday Malaise.
Packed buses resemble transports out of Saigon. Seventy-minute or more waiting times are par for the course. Proud non-car-owning San Francisco types are cursing themselves and summoning Uber.
So, when Zeltser called for an afternoon press conference today, people showed up. And, this time, they listened. His solution:
Tax the billionaires, tax the developers, tax the bankers, and nationalize the banks.
Zeltser claimed to be representing "several" Muni drivers. None showed up, but, then again, how could they? They're ostensibly home, sick. No union representatives showed up either; the Transit Workers' Local 250 can't exactly sanctify an illegal sick-out. So we were stuck with Zeltser.
He claimed drivers were provoked into today's action via "harassment and bullying" from management. An 11.25 percent raise -- coupled with a 7.5 percent augmentation in pension contributions -- was portrayed as a money-loser for workers when you factor in inflation and cost of living. And, besides, there's plenty of money to be had from billionaires, developers, Twitter, et al.
Again, all of these points may well be true. But when reporters asked for a message to deliver to Muni riders left, waiting -- during, for a change, a delay Muni actually intended for -- Zeltser said "Tell them to go to Ed Lee, Go to [Muni boss] Ed Reiskin and ask them why they're not negotiating properly."
More on that in a second. But, for now, this is a good example of why, of all unions, the Muni drivers may be the city's most tone-deaf. City residents forced to pile onto Muni buses no cleaner than normal but many times more packed, following interminable delays, are not going to be in a charitable mood. Most public transit-riding types, to boot, are not going to be all that sympathetic to hear that your double-digit raise isn't quite enough to cover the enhanced contribution to your defined-benefits retirement plan that will pay you and your heirs 75 percent of your salary, for life.
As for negotiating properly, if the drivers reject management's offer -- our repeated calls to both the union and management haven't been returned, but this seems all but certain -- the matter heads to binding arbitration. And, per Prop. G of 2011, the arbitrator would have to rule that Muni drivers' gripes outweigh "the public interest in efficient and reliable transit."
Well, that's a nearly impossible wall to scale. And that's just how Proposition G's author, then-Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, intended it. Other elements of Prop. G have been attacked legally and stripped away. But that vital component still stands.
And so do the vast majority of Muni's vehicles today -- parked and unmanned.
SF Weekly is told that this will be a three-day sickout. Spottiness last week, it seems, was preamble to this week's full-on sickout. No news on that from any of the warring parties. Tune in tomorrow, as they say.
Zeltser noted to the gathered media that former Muni driver Dorian Maxwell, a longtime whistleblower and activist fired by the agency, would be showing up to speak. But he didn't make it.
We reached Maxwell via his cell. He was taking transit to the event. And he was late.