Irwin Lum weaves his way through the hundreds of revelers at the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union Hall as Willie Brown proclaims himself mayor of San Francisco. From the podium, Brown admits his assessment of the precinct reports is premature — only 17 percent of the vote has been counted — but this is Brown country and no one is going to raise a dissenting voice. Least of all Lum and his fellow Municipal Railway workers, who pepper the crowd, dressed in their telltale brown duds.
This is the bus drivers' moment of incontrovertible victory. Under attack from Mayor Jordan since the summer for their contract and work rules, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents the city's 1,800 Muni drivers, is now on the express line to political power.
The union provided the bulk of Brown's precinct walkers in the general election and the Dec. 12 runoff. Local transit workers, their union, and national transit unions gave Brown a respectable $10,600 in campaign contributions. But the link between the new mayor and the union goes beyond simple money and shoe leather. They are bonded by a more immutable force.
Half of TWU's members are African-American. While the Irish and Italians got their leg up putting out fires and arresting bad guys — and at the same time shutting out minorities — since the late '60s blacks have entered the middle class through the San Francisco Municipal Railway, and more importantly through the TWU, which protected their economic status by helping elect friendly mayors and supervisors and negotiating gainful contracts with those elected officials.
Long story short, the TWU is practically woven into the fabric of Brown's Brioni suits.
As Brown wraps his victory speech, Lum leaves the hall, arm in arm with his wife. Outside the hall, the 45-year-old Muni supervisor and TWU member talks to me about the new mayor.
“He understands the issues facing our workers,” Lum says. “But he also understands the riders' needs. He is able to bring CR>all sides to the table. He'll be fair. He won't antagonize anyone.”
Lum bids farewell, and he and his wife go home. Just then, one of the “sides” Lum spoke of — perhaps the most formidable one — emerges from the inky darkness on his way into the party. It's Mark Mosher, the executive director of the Committee on Jobs (COJ). The political arm of corporate San Francisco, the COJ represents the city's 30 biggest corporations: Bank of America, PG&E, the Pacific Stock Exchange, and PacTel, to name a few. While the TWU represents the bulwark of trade unionism in San Francisco, the COJ is the big dog of das capital.
But Mosher walked precincts for Brown, too. And his family goes way back with the new mayor. The Moshers held one of Brown's first fund-raisers when he was a greenhorn legislator. More important, though, COJ members, their employees, and relatives of both funneled $40,000 into the Willie Brown for Mayor Committee, making the COJ one of the single largest donors. Also on the scene at the victory party is Don Solem, the COJ's fleshy lobbyist.
As Lum and Mosher pass each other, going in opposite directions, they signify what will be one of the mayor-elect's toughest and first political balancing acts.
Brown made “fixing” Muni his No. 1 issue during the campaign. But his big-tent Democrat ways have landed him between two powerful constituencies — big business and the TWU — who have diametrically opposed plans for fixing the transit system, which can't be salvaged until business and labor reach some rapprochement. Brown will serve as the hard-nosed diplomat trying to negotiate a detente.
The TWU wants more money from downtown companies to fill the chronic Muni deficit, which hits about $25 million a year. Studies have shown that the downtown core — from Folsom Street to the south and Vallejo Street to the north to Franklin Street to the west and the Embarcadero to the east — uses a majority of the city's Muni services and reaps considerable economic benefits from the transit sCR>ystem. Yet independent analysts have concluded that Muni subsidizes the Financial District to the tune of $54 million a year.
Downtown — the Chamber of Commerce, the Committee on Jobs, developers, and property owners — has its own list of gripes about the transit system. Not surprisingly, many of them are aimed at the TWU.
The union's contract and benefit package, which ensures the TWU one of the best deals in the country, is a thorn in business' side. Driver salaries and benefits are locked in the city charter, hampering civil service officials in their attempts to negotiate efficiency measures with the union.
The business community wants concessions on many of the TWU's work rules, which, depending on whom you talk to, suck a purported $5 million to $10 million out of the system each year.
Both sides in this historic standoff are equally intransigent. But with Willie Brown's election, they are now equally powerful.
So far everyone's playing nice. Brown is newly elected, and the mantra of the day is conciliation. But don't be fooled. The contradictory positions of two of Brown's key support bases will not stay at a cordial simmer forever. Soon they will boil over; sooner than Brown imagines.
After his Jan. 8 inauguration, Brown will have four months to prepare a city budget. Part of that budget, of course, will be Muni and its nettlesome deficit.
The range of options available to the new mayor is limited to cutting labor costs, raising fares, cutting service, or raising taxes. Cutting service or raising fares would be political suicide. So that leaves him caught between the union and the business community. A rock and a hard place.
But remember, this is the master of the political deal we're talking about. This is a man who can see wriggle room where only a master physicist with laser technology can navigate. [page]
As Brown resolves the impending contest of wills, the city will learn an important lesson about its new mayor: how he intends to govern, to balanCR>ce the city's stubborn political camps who have clung to his mayoralty.
Brown's solutions to Muni will emerge in the coming months. But one thing is already undeniably clear: The system is in a serious state of atrophy. If it isn't reformed soon, everyone in the city will suffer. No matter who you are or what you do, no matter how rich, how poor, how gay, how het, how black, white, yellow, or blue, how much you ride the bus or drive your car, you will most certainly feel the pain.
That's the thing about Muni, why it engenders so much anger and so much political posturing. You can't escape it. Muni affects just about every aspect of city life: the environment, the economy, our sense of civic pride, and social cohesion.
Downtown businesses rely on it to transport approximately 70 percent of their workers, not to mention their customers. Automobile drivers rely on it to keep the roadways free of congestion. We all rely on it to keep the air clean.
But Muni fulfills an even more important role. The city spends millions on social programs, but Muni exerts the greatest leveling effect on residents. It's the place where all classes, races, and subcultures meet on common ground. It's where stockbrokers ride side by side with homeless people.
Muni is the city's great communal conversation, the town square on wheels. Our diversity creates more schisms than shared experiences. But, man, we all love to hate Muni.
The latest assessment of Muni's problems comes from transit consultant Richard Swanson, who was hired by the Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. Swanson's report has not been released or endorsed by the chamber yet, but it has received high marks from both sides of the Muni debate.
Swanson found that the problems in service are largely the result of poor maintenance. Muni simply can't keep up with repairs, so an ever increasing number of buses are breaking down. Five years ago, only 21 percent of light-rail vehicles (LRVs) were out of service during peak hours. CR>Today, that number has reached 30 percent. Similar situations hold for the trolleys and the diesel buses, and Muni is powerless to staunch the hemorrhaging. The transit service recently reduced its morning rail fleet from 128 to 90 vehicles. But because of repairs, on any given day Muni fields only 80 vehicles during morning peak periods. On the overground, 45 diesels are out of service because of axle and frame defects, resulting in the same service problems.
The fleet is shabby mainly because all the vehicles have either reached or exceeded the retirement age of 12 years mandated by the federal government. This presents Muni with perhaps its most confounding problem: the senseless competition between maintenance and fleet replacement dollars, which keeps the system from righting itself. Here's why: As maintenance needs increase, more discretionary dollars are being spent on fixing buses rather than leveraging federal dollars to buy new vehicles. Most other transit systems replace vehicles when they reach retirement, Swanson reports. San Francisco, however, is unable to come up with the cash and ends up pouring money into maintenance, a rat hole if ever there was one. The buses will never run well again, and the maintenance costs on post-retirement coaches and LRVs spiral upward every year those vehicles are not replaced.
For example, Swanson found that Muni spends $14 million a year maintaining its elderly LRVs. If the vehicles were new, the cost would plummet to $4 million a year.
With more and more buses breaking down, scheduled runs are being missed and buses and trains are growing more crowded. Missed service hours due to lack of vehicles rose from 19,000 in 1991 to 73,000 this year.
But equipment isn't the only problem. Driver absenteeism has a more pernicious effect, according to Swanson's study. In every year from 1991 to 1995, driver absenteeism caused more missed runs than vehicle shortages. An average of 38,000 more service hours per year were missed because operators didn't CR>come to work. On any given day in the Muni system, Swanson reports, 25 percent to 30 percent of the drivers miss work, and 15 percent are unscheduled miss-outs. All told, equipment and personnel shortages caused missed runs to increase by more than 30 percent in the last four fiscal years.
No surprise then that rider complaints were up 22 percent from 1993 to 1994 and up again this year by 33 percent. Ridership (and thus fare revenue) declined by 4 percent over the same time period.
Now it would be nice to blame the meshuga Muni on the drivers. It would be rewarding to think that that homicidal maniac 22 Fillmore driver who routinely tried to kill you running stop signs in the Lower Haight was the main problem. Indeed, it would be satisfying to believe that the passive-aggressive creep who lurches and spills your coffee every time you ride the 8 Market is at the root of all evil in the Muni.
But alas, the problems are more complex. Mostly it's money, or the lack thereof. Between now and the end of Brown's tenure, Swanson reports, Muni will experience a cumulative shortfall of about $180 million. Annual shortfalls will be about $25 million.
Swanson points out that most other public transit systems in the U.S. have a fixed and reliable source of revenue, either tolls from bridges or a special tax assessment. But San Francisco has no such stream of green to grease its public rails. San Francisco voters have approved fixed budget allocations for police, the libraries, and even youth services over the years. But when it comes to Muni, it appears we'd all rather bitch and moan than fight for the service. (The only public displays of outrage come when the city tries to increase fares or eliminate transfers.) [page]
Currently, Muni is funded by three main sources: the fare box, federal and state grants, and the city's general fund. Problem is, these are all unstable, declining sources of revenues. The federal and state money is drying up faster than spilled vodka in the Serengeti. Swanson puts it CR>more consultantly: “Based on current discussions by the administration and Congress regarding the future federal aid to transit, Federal Section 9 operating support will almost certainly be eliminated by the turn of the century.”
That will take $20 million out of the system.
But the reliance on the general fund creates a deeper problem. As most government observers already know, the budget process in San Francisco has been hopelessly perverted by cynical politics. (Like we should be any different.) Ultimately, the mayor and the supervisors give the loudest constituencies the most attention. That's why books, cops, and kids are protected. Historically, these services have had strong advocacy groups supporting them.
But strange as it may seem, Muni has no such support network. For years, the Muni riders have been thrown to the wolves. During Jordan's tenure, he cut Muni every year from 1992 on for a total of $40 million, a 33 percent decline. Those cuts have significantly reduced supervisorial staff, leaving the running of the system in large part to driver discretion. Since 1988, staffing of transit managers has dropped 40 percent, and street supervisors — the folks who make sure the drivers are making their appointed rounds efficiently — have dropped by 27 percent. Drivers are protected from layoffs by their contract.
But the number of drivers is down too, reduced by attrition, early retirement buyouts, and hiring freezes. Currently the system is short several hundred drivers.
Likewise, the maintenance division has been hit hard; 90 maintenance workers and the entire engineering staff have disappeared, Swanson reports. But as the consultant points out, service levels — the number of routes and the frequency of arrivals — have been kept the same. Muni carries more passengers per driver work hour than any other U.S. transit service.
“Rather than formally announce a reduction in service commensurate with the budget realities and publish a new schedule that would allow ridersCR> to understand the impact of cuts to them, service has been cut on a de facto basis,” the report states. “That is, as an increasing number of buses, trolley coaches, and LRVs are unable to make the run because of maintenance problems, or an operator is unavailable, the run is simply not made.”
(Translation: The supervisors and the mayor have been too cowardly to tell the public what they are really doing, which is cutting service. So what do our lovely elected ones do? They cut the money but force Muni to provide the same level of service. That way the drivers catch all the flak and the politicians can dodge the claim that they irrevocably damaged one of the city's most important services.)
Last year, the supervisors approved a shift of parking fines and fees to Muni, creating a small fixed money stream. But it's not enough, Swanson says.
And the problem of Muni's budget goes beyond filling the deficit. That would merely keep Muni bumping along at the same erratic course.
Swanson says that the city needs $400 million to leverage $1.2 billion in federal money so it can replace its aging fleet and reduce its maintenance costs. But both ends of that deal are drying up — and quickly.
So what's a mayor to do? Even those in Brown's inner circle haven't a clue. Calvin Welch, a longtime neighborhood activist who's part of Brown's kitchen cabinet, says answering that question is like “reading the Sphinx.”
And it's not like Brown can put off the issue. It was he who stood out in the chilly air every morning during the campaign shaking Muni riders' hands, asking about their complaints. It was he who on election night said he'd “fix Muni.” Not that he'd make significant headway. Not that he'd address or study the myriad problems. He said “fix,” creating a level of expectation that will be hard to live up to. (And we know what happens to mayors who fail to meet imprudent goals. Remember that guy named Agnos who said he'd end homelessness?)
Somehow Brown is going to have to fCR>ind some money. That's compulsory if he hopes to fix the existing fleet, buy new buses, increase staffing, and improve service.
Throughout the campaign, Brown talked about his ability to broker compromise among competing interests, to get some give on all sides. His favorite anecdote involved getting the Los Angeles teachers' union to agree to a 10 percent wage reduction in order to resolve a strike.
In solving the Muni nightmare, Brown will have to extract similar concessions from the TWU. He'll have to talk work rules, salaries, and benefits. And despite his warm relations with the union, he'll find that cracking the TWU contract is no easy task.
The best metaphor for the union's contract is an iron, padlocked chastity belt, protecting the union from management demands.
Setting salaries and benefits in the city charter is like passing a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing pay and bennies of federal workers.
Every year, the city surveys the two U.S. transit systems with the highest-paid drivers and pays the TWU up to the average of both. According to the union, the TWU is the fifth-highest-paid transit union in America, with drivers making between $38,000 and $50,000 a year on average.
But their pay is augmented on a quarterly basis with checks cut from the union's trust fund. The trust fund is a taxpayer-supplied account meant to make up the difference between the most lucrative benefits package and the one that the TWU receives. If the fund were eliminated it would save the city an estimated $2 million a year. [page]
These special charter provisions — which no other city union enjoys — seriously constrain management when it comes time to negotiate a new contract. In labor negotiations, salaries and benefits are often played off each other. If the city is having difficult fiscal times, it can make a gift to the union on the salary side in order to negotiate a savings on the benefit side or vice versa. But the way the TWU contract is structured, with both CR>salaries and benefits locked in the charter, the city has no such leeway.
The charter-mandated salaries and benefits also neuter the city when it comes to negotiating the terms and conditions of employment. If the city were to want to change a work rule, it could give some ground to the union on the salary side. But since the TWU is guaranteed a sizable raise each year, the city has no bargaining chit.
Sources on the Jordan labor negotiation team say every time they tried to negotiate a change in the work rules the union would simply refuse. The team quickly realized there was nothing they could do to make the union move.
And if that weren't enough, the charter also sets a mandatory schedule of bus lines and complement of drivers. (Remember, the current TWU contract has a no layoff provision.)
Pretty sweet, huh? But wait, there's more.
Questionable salary provisions, struck in side letters with the union, cost the city a bundle each year. For instance, Muni Metro drivers and cable car operators are guaranteed 32 minutes of overtime pay each day — regardless of whether they work over their schedule. Jordan's budget staff says this costs the city $1.1 million a year.
Also, 24 part-time drivers work four hours a day but get paid for nine hours of work, costing the city $660,000 a year. Excessive overtime costs drain the system of an additional $4 million a year, Jordan's staff says. Sources say drivers have a system by which they trade days off to ensure overtime. This ploy is facilitated by a contract provision that allows drivers to work on their regular days off.
Then there're the work rules.
The most infamous rule allows drivers not to show up to work 16 days a year without calling in. Until they “miss out” a fifth time in a quarter, they are not disciplined. The provision increases missed runs and waiting periods for riders.
The work rules also make it difficult to discipline drivers for misconduct — rudeness, passing by stops, and not pulling into bus CR>zones. A rider who complains must face the driver in a disciplinary hearing. While due process should be afforded drivers, sources on Jordan's labor negotiation team say drivers make a practice of not showing up to the first two or three hearings. Usually, the rider gives up. Consequently, less than 5 percent of drivers are disciplined as a result of a rider complaint, and no driver has been discharged for passenger service problems in a decade. Jordan suggested that drivers be disciplined based on an affidavit signed by the rider. The union balked.
Another work rule prevents Muni from using its computerized vehicle tracker to punish drivers who go off route for personal reasons or take unscheduled breaks.
Union perks also hamper Muni management's ability to run buses quicker and more efficiently. A staffing requirement struck in a side letter with the city mandates that each car on a multicar LRV or trolley be manned by a driver, even though only the driver in the lead car does any work. Jordan tried to eliminate the provision and implement a system where a ticket-checker, whose salary would be dramatically less than a TWU driver, walks the cars selling tickets and ensuring safety. The plan would also allow all doors to open at once, facilitating easier boarding and quicker departure. The TWU blocked the proposal, costing the city $2.6 million, according to Jordan's budget staff.
Under TWU rules, Muni managers are unable to reassign drivers to different routes except in strictly defined emergencies. If a driver or two don't show up for work on a given route, managers are unable to draw on drivers in other parts of the system, creating chronic and unpredictable service problems.
Frank Jordan used the union's contract and its work rules as a key plank in his campaign strategy. He went as far as holding a press conference in front of the TWU offices the week before the runoff election. The stunt degenerated into near fisticuffs between Jordan's staff and union officials.
But Jordan hadCR> little interest in saving the city money or making Muni more efficient. If he'd cared about the budget he wouldn't have irresponsibly negotiated a lucrative retirement package with the firefighters' union this year, which is impossible to cost out. Assistant Controller John Madden said the new package could end up costing the city up to $100 million a year.
And if Jordan had been really interested in inane contract provisions, he would have gone after the section in the firefighters' contract that ties management salary increases to the pay hikes of line staff. “It's a hokey contract,” says Hilda Bernstein, former head of the civil grand jury. “It creates a total disincentive to get the management to be cost-effective and to demand quality from firefighters before they get a raise, because a raise for their men means a raise for them.”
And if Jordan really cared about making Muni more efficient, he wouldn't have cut the budget so severely while asking that the system still carry the same number of passengers as in good times.
What was really on Jordan's mind, many inside and outside the TWU say, was playing off racial divisions in order to get re-elected. They say by attacking the city's only predominantly black union, characterizing its members as lazy, greedy, and overly compensated for their poor performance, he and his campaign manager, Clint Reilly, hoped to turn the election into a contest between the races. [page]
It didn't work. But the scheme did leave the city with a lasting hangover. Though the work rules are wasteful, the TWU now has an easy comeback to anyone else who broaches the subject: You're a racist, just like Frank.
Larry Martin, the international vice president of the TWU and a former bus driver, makes this point abundantly clear in an interview the day after Brown was elected.
When people talk about the TWU, they are really talking about Larry Martin. There are three TWU locals representing Muni workers, but Martin is the man. He is the union.
The TWU occCR>upies a modest third-floor office on Fillmore Street, and it is in the union's boardroom that Martin holds forth on the new mayor and the TWU contract. He is visibly fatigued. In addition to organizing his workers into an electoral juggernaut, Martin has had to fend off Jordan's assaults.
But there's a tragic personal dimension to Martin's lassitude. His wife died this year, and he's been dealing with his grief and trying to raise his teen-age daughter at the same time as he's been playing high-stakes politics.
Martin sits down at a long table in the TWU's meeting room. Leaning back in a black faux-leather chair, he talks about Brown's election and what it means to the union.
“We don't expect anymore than anyone else,” he says. “What we will receive from Willie is the opportunity to sit down and talk about our problems in a fair way.”
But what pleases Martin the most about the election is the failure of Jordan to make hay with the work-rule issue.
“We have the largest minority union in the city, and he wanted to make it a black-and-white campaign,” Martin says. “Why did he come here and campaign at our office? Why did he put up those [Mistrust] signs in black-and-white? Because the son of a bitch is a racist. Him and old Clint Reilly are fucking money-hungry sons of bitches, do anything for money. I'm just so glad and proud that so many people in this town saw through that issue. I'm happy about Willie winning, but more than anything I'm glad people did not allow this town to get divided over that stuff.”
Martin says his union held focus groups during the election and found that most Muni riders saw through the Jordan strategy.
And when the union's contract comes up for renewal next year, Martin is adamant: The work rules, the salary structure, the trust fund are not subjects to be discussed. Those issues died with Jordan, he says.
“I tell you,” he says. “From this day forward anyone come to us and talk to us about work rules is nothing but a prejudiced son of a biCR>tch. Anyone who wants to talk about work rules if they are at the Muni need to look for another job. They have no business there. It's just wasting time for anyone to talk about it.”
Martin's intransigence is partly a negotiating tactic: An old horse-trader, he knows the value of pre-deal haggling. But he also knows that the TWU must come to some sort of an understanding with downtown interests, because they are in the position of reforming Muni — and tempering the TWU's power.
Overhauling the TWU's contract and work rules — a highly unlikely prospect — wouldn't save enough to rescue Muni. Jordan himself has placed the value of the perks and the waste in the TWU contract at $10 million. Richard Swanson is more conservative, estimating $5 million in savings if the TWU were to make some work-rule changes.
So even with some union give — and in the absence of fair hikes and new federal largess — a big chunk of cash must come from downtown, which has more than a passing interest in Muni's well-being. The vast majority of downtown's employees and customers commute on city buses. Without Muni, there isn't remotely enough parking to accommodate the daily traffic. Without Muni, retail sales will plummet and professional services will take a hit.
Muni service has boosted property values in the Financial District, because fewer acres need to be reserved for parking (a relative money loser) and therefore more are available for lucrative high-rises. In fact, a 1981 study by Touche, Ross & Co. consultants determined that Muni service to downtown constituted a subsidy of $20 million to its landlords.
Board Budget Analyst Harvey Rose updated that study in 1993. Looking at four factors — the cost to the city of providing an extraordinary level of service to downtown; the amount of revenue those lines generate; the healthy economic climate Muni helps create; and the overall tax bill downtown pays — Rose figured that downtown business should pay $54 million more in taxes each year in ordeCR>r to meet its obligations.
The tax remedy to the downtown subsidy most often discussed is a transit assessment district drawn around the greater downtown area. Sotto voce, Committee on Jobs members say they wouldn't be adverse to some form of new taxation, especially if the pain is spread out to include hotels and perhaps even businesses in the heavily traveled Geary Street corridor. They'd be even happier if the assessment district took in the whole city, another option they are considering suggesting.
But a COJ source says the group will not even utter the dread T-word until the TWU agrees to deal on its contract. “Willie is going to have to bang some heads together,” the COJ source says.
The COJ has repeatedly proven its ability to control the tax debate and kill any revenue plan that doesn't meet its approval. Last year, the COJ successfully blocked a proposal by Supervisor Sue Bierman to fund a study that would have updated the 1981 study on the economic benefits downtown accrues from Muni. And when Proposition O, a measure calling for a downtown Muni tax study, was placed on the November 1994 ballot, the COJ buried it under a $700,000 campaign as they pushed the argument that the real issues were Muni efficiency and the drivers. [page]
During the campaign, property owners like the Shorenstein Co., which owns hundreds of millions of dollars worth of downtown real estate, mailed letters to tenants informing them of huge rent increases if the tax passed. The letters went on to ask for campaign contributions in the same amount as the tax; the argument was that the tenants would be better off paying the “tax” once as a “No on O” donation than every year to the government. The Shorenstein appeal was successful.
Once again, business interests are taking control of the Muni tax issue. The original Swanson study included a discussion of a downtown Muni tax, but sources say that portion was expunged by the chamber. Instead, Swanson proposes taking Muni out of the city government structure and cCR>reating a separate transit district with its commissioners appointed by the mayor, the supervisors, and the governor. Part of that proposal for an independent Muni calls for the elimination of the TWU's charter protections.
Such a move would be tantamount to labor war, with Willie Brown caught in the middle trying to stay below the fray.
“It stinks,” says Marc Norton of San Franciscans for Tax Justice, one of the groups who backed Prop. O. “It would take the decisions about labor and fares out of the public's hands by giving those decisions to unelected officials.”
Adds Norton: “Privatization is one aim of this structure.” Norton and others fear that an independent transit body would find it easier — freed from the direct political influence of the mayor and the supervisors — to sell off public bus lines.
Their fear is hardly academic. Last year, the Republican Party put two measures on the San Francisco ballot aimed at undermining the TWU and paving the way for privatizing Muni. One campaign committee, San Franciscans for Greater Efficiency in Government, pushed the privatization measure. Another, San Franciscans for an Improved Muni, pushed a measure mandating a complete audit of the Muni. It was largely viewed as a way of digging up dirt on the TWU. The privatization measure lost, but the audit won. Contributions to the audit committee came from downtown interests: insurance honcho Dick Goldman, the Building Owners and Managers Association PAC, and Air Touch.
The committee for the losing privatization measure was a shell, with no activity in the account until the week of the election when the private Grosvenor Bus Lines gave a whopping $13,000. The next day, the Committee for Greater Efficiency in Government funneled the bus-line money to the audit committee, providing it cash necessary to run a winning campaign.
All the while, David Werby and his Grosvenor Buses were hidden from view. It wouldn't have done to have a private bus line owner looking so interested in a politCR>ically motivated audit of Muni.
The TWU's Larry Martin says Werby, one of Mayor Jordan's fund-raisers, has been gunning for Muni business for years. In the early days of the Jordan administration, Martin says, Jordan and Werby were constantly pressing Muni into giving up the monopoly rights on some of its lines.
Weakening the TWU would cause the downtown CEOs to wet themselves in delight, because the TWU is the only union strong enough to bring the city to its knees. Unlike the other city government unions, the TWU is not prohibited by law from striking. If — and when — the drivers go out, the city would come to a screeching halt. The baseline comparison of discomfort is not the 11-day newspaper strike in November 1994, but the Loma Prieta earthquake.
“The TWU is the Holy Grail for us in the old left,” Calvin Welch says. “They are the only ones who can shut down the city with a strike. That gives them tremendous leverage. If [the Committee on Jobs] can get rid of the TWU, all they have left to deal with are midgets.”
Surely, the chamber and the COJ will suggest the independent transit district as a possible alternative to a tax measure. In attempting to focus the debate on a downtown Muni tax, the TWU and its liberal allies would be well-advised to consider the success of Shorenstein and other downtown property owners in the 1994 campaign.
These interests have already purchased a right to whisper in Willie's ear. A review of Brown's campaign contributions reveals that fully one-eighth of his $2 million in donations — $260,000 to be exact — came from downtown property owners, their tenants, and the relatives of tenants and owners. And the influence downtown wields in Brown's big tent goes beyond money. Doug Shorenstein, the CEO of the Shorenstein Co. and field marshal of the COJ, went to great lengths to organize COJ members behind Brown's campaign, corralling those CEOs who still felt some loyalty to Jordan.
“Doug is owed,” admits Welch, a supporter of a downtown Muni tax.
But, he quickly adds, others are owed, too. He and land-use attorney Sue Hestor claim to have helped amass $50,000 for Brown in two separate fund-raising events. Add that to the field work and money provided by the TWU, and the scales of influence are balanced, Welch says.
“What Brown wants is to have me, Larry, and Doug agree on a package,” Welch says.
Asked how likely the chances are of a cordial compromise, Welch pauses.
“Well, we'll see.”
And if the stalemate grows sour, if the COJ gets too insistent in avoiding a tax assessment or going after the Muni drivers' contract, Larry Martin already has a counterattack planned. [page]
“We have pictures of where all [COJ CEOs] live,” he says. “We have a little sheet of paper telling us how much they make. When I put that out to the public, I am almost sure I won't have too many problems. All I'm asking is to sit down around a table with them and see how we can resolve this thing. If not, we know how to play with it. I know politics pretty well. We convince the voters that if these people make so much money why don't we tax 'em. I bet they pass it when I show 'em how much their great big houses cost in those neighborhoods with those fences. I got all that stuff for them if they want to play some games.”
And there's one final tactic Martin is reserving for Shorenstein and crew if negotiations break down.
“I'm going to take the bus out there with poor folks and take a picture in front of their houses,” he says. “I know where to find them.