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article imageMass sickout by transit workers cripples San Francisco commute

By Nathan Salant     Jun 2, 2014 in Environment
San Francisco - San Francisco's legions of downtown office workers faced a grindingly slow commute Monday after two-thirds of the city's transit operators called in sick in an apparent contract protest.
San Francisco Municipal Railway officials struggled Monday to convince transit drivers to return to work Tuesday, going as far as to threaten them with unpaid leave.
The city was able to field only 200 of the scheduled 600 vehicles scheduled to be operating Monday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
"Operators claiming to be sick today, or in connection with any future 'sickout,' will be required to submit adequate verification from their health care provider in order to be eligible to receive paid sick leave," the city's Metropolitan Transportation Agency told workers Monday.
The agency, known as Muni, would not provide figures on the number of operators who called in sick Monday.
Nor was it clear Monday evening if the apparent wildcat protest would continue Tuesday.
Muni used most its remaining cars for Monday's evening commute, where thousands of frustrated workers waited at overcrowded stops for buses and streetcars.
Some riders reported waits of more than an hour for buses, which normally run considerably more frequently at rush hour, MTA spokesman Paul Rose said.
Waits of an hour or longer could be anticipated on all transit lines, he said.
Tourists waiting for rides of Muni's famous cable cars had to be told the 150-year-old cars would not be running at all on Monday.
Taxis and other private ride services reported a huge surge in business, the newspaper said.
The unofficial job action came following Friday's vote on a controversial contract proposal that many Muni workers opposed bitterly.
The operators' union, Transport Workers Local 250-A, took no official position on the proposal, which would raise salaries by 11.25 percent over two years but impose a 7.5 percent pension deduction for the first time.
If adopted, the new contract would raise operators' pay on July 1 to $32 an hour, the second-highest in the country, the newspaper said.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, labor activist Steve Seltzer said the sickout was a driver-led rebellion against a contract he said would result in pay cuts for operators.
"The drivers are sick," Seltzer said.
"They're sick of the attacks, sick of being blamed for Muni's problems."
All San Francisco city employees, including Muni workers, are prohibited from striking.
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