Letter No. 2 From a Muni Operator’s Wife

guardians of the secret
Photo by Flickr user catbagan

This week sure has seen an onslaught against Muni operators. First, we had the mayor slamming the TWU for not agreeing to a set of budget-reducing concessions. Then, on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors-commissioned audit of Muni found that excessive overtime and other employee behaviors are costing the agency (and thus by extension, you and me) millions of dollars. Though, it should be noted, not nearly enough to have closed a $28.8 million budget deficit.

Hell, even Tara had a post this week griping about a bus driver’s behavior.

So, what do things look like from the other side, from the driver’s seat, so to speak? This brings me to a letter we received a few weeks ago from a veteran Muni operator’s wife. This is the second letter we’ve received from the spouse of a Muni operator (read the first one here), wanting give their views on what it’s like to drive the bus here. We want to share with you some of the salient points of this most recent letter.

My husband has been working for the past 30 years with Muni. … Not many people who may sit behind a desk or may have easier jobs (and don’t have to worry about being assaulted like this bus driver, who was recently dragged off the bus and beaten by thugs)  can understand that being a Muni driver is more than just driving a bus. I watched my husband change over the years and the abuse he has received as well as many operators.

He was beaten up by 16 young thugs because he beeped the horn when he saw that they were dealing drugs in the middle of the street. … He has been threatened by crazies — once someone threatened him with a pink fluid in a jar, saying that it was acid and will burn him. He has been threatened by people who don’t want to pay, which is an everyday occurrence. Some of these people try to kick him or even spit on him because he does not give them free rides. …

He [has also] been a hero on some occasions — chasing purse snatchers, or those who snatched a gold necklace, protected passengers from violent strangers, returned many wallets with cash and credit cards fully intact in them and the passengers have been grateful.

Drivers have become scapegoats for the system. … The drivers’ union has also been a misunderstood topic: The union does not always protect the driver’s interests. Muni drivers also never got a bonus — just the interest earned back on the money drivers had already put in.

… There are far too many supervisors per division when we need more drivers. There are also people who are off for years on worker’s compensation. There needs to be furlolugh and paycuts across the board in city government — even the police and firefighters. But it seems like Muni drivers are unfairly targeted while firefighter and police are often regarded as heroes.

The management is trying to get the drivers on any and all little incidents even, handing suspensions left and right — trying to force them out on early retirement, or trying to get the older drivers fired so they can keep the newer drivers at a reduced pay. Or, if they are fired, they don’t have to pay retirement and they lose all they worked hard over the years for.

Muni definitely needs improvement and needs to stop waste at all levels(the whole city needs to do that, in fact). … Please, don’t take it out on the drivers — they are just trying to do their job like everyone else.

So, what do you think?

24 comments

  • AVolberding

    Muni drivers have a difficult job and deserve to be adequately compensated for their work. However, there is no reason why bus operators’ salaries should be set in the City Charter. It is bad public policy and bad transportation policy.

    Guaranteeing drivers the second highest salary in the nation removes all incentive to change the work rules that make our transit system inefficient and ineffective from a service and ridership perspective.

    Muni’s problems are numerous and will not be easily solved, but drivers need to come to the table and be part of that solution.

    • Eric Miles

      I completely agree with AVolberding, and I’ve been a Bay Area transit operator myself. Hard-coding raises in the City Charter is not cool. I will sign the petition for that ballot initiative if needed and vote yes on it.

  • citi-zen

    Maybe, just maybe, if the union drivers, who are members of the drivers UNION, got the union leadership to do what they supposedly want, then it wouldn’t be so easy to pick on the drivers! I encourse the author of this letter to encourage her husband to become a leader & part of the solution, instead of sitting & watching the issues go by!

  • noah

    if you support the ballot measure to collectively bargain for muni salaries, that’s totally understandable. but, given SF’s history at collective bargaining, you should expect that muni salaries will be higher under collective bargaining than they would be under the formula set in the city charter.

    • jenella

      as a wife of a Muni operator, I am looking forward to it….. Maybe my husband can get a piss break out of it too!

  • Daishin

    It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for MUNI drivers at all. I have never been treated civilly by any of them. Why should we really care about this driver’s wife or him? He might do us all a huge service by quitting MUNI asap, and take the rest of the union members with him.

    • Mike

      You’ve never had one civil driver? I find that hard to believe.

      I remember several years ago taking the 44 a few times from the starting point in the Richmond around 9 pm. The driver always departed on time and always cleaned up the bus a bit during the layover. He was one of the good ones. They are out there.

    • This is coming months late, but I just saw this in your year-end review. I have never been treated badly by a muni driver. They have always answered my many questions and helped me use the system (which, btw, I am fairly new to). I try to always greet the driver and I always say thank you when I depart, unless they are overwhelmed with the onslaught of passengers. This has to be a tough job because it’s not just the passengers, who can be insane, but also the crazy drivers, bikers, and pedestrians in this city. Driving in SF is no picnic.

  • Muni driver's wife

    Thank you for posting part of my letter-I wish you were able to post the rest of it as I think it is more in the driver’s favor and not as mild as it is portrayed here. The union has already bargained their right away to strike,if the contracts go up to negotiation then this should be put back on the table as well. The drivers are scapegoats for the public,management and pawns for the union who negotiated away their right to strike. If the union won’t strike then the drivers should band together and strike and cripple the city transit’s system. Maybe then people will realize how much the system is needed and show a bit of respect towards each other.

    If my letter was shown in its entirety,although I understand space is limited so that is fine,I did mention Muni definitely needs improvement and needs to stop waste on all levels (the whole city needs to do that in fact),all I am saying is don’t take ity out on the drivers-they are NOT the problem but the symptoms of a bigger problem. Once they try to solve the myriad of problems at all levels and stop waste,consolidate and manage the money appropriately and if citizens who aren’t paying currently pay their fair share then the city will view MUNI in a better light and this will in turn take pressure off the drivers and maybe alleviate the animosity.

    I think people like Daishin,who no matter what we say will be against the Muni driver and as the passengers become bitter,what does that do to the drivers who then may become defensive as well. I think many Muni drivers are feeling this. Maybe Daishin came on the bus after an incident on the bus where they had to make someone pay and the person gave them a hard time. Have you not had a lousy day at work? Can it compare to the types of lousy day the Muni drivers have being assaulted,etc? I am not defending the behavior,but explaining it as best as I can. But again,you Daishin may not have met a nice busdriver,but there are passengers who are grateful that my husband has saved them from harm or retrieved their stolen objects,etc. And my husband has been awarded many times before and just recentyly was told by management we need more busdrivers like him-safe driving record for 30 years even. I know you don’t care,but Daishin if you can do a better job by all means obtain the special license/training for it and apply. I think you would not be any better with an atttitude you already have.

    But thank you to the rest of the people who replied thus far for trying to be a part of the solution rather than just being automatically negative which is counterproductive. I have wanted my dh to become a union rep as he would be very good and he does rally the drivers,but unfortunately he is self conscious about his writing skills(being honest) and feel he is not articulate enough. I told him I would even help him! And someone mentioned on the previous wife’s letter about the salary. We live far away(hour to 1.5 hours-in rush hour-even 2 hours away) to afford the house that we live in (much cheaper than rent in SF) so he works long hours and is gone 14-16 hour days.

    But it is the venom I feel here at times that scares me that my dh is driving out there. He has to work to support his family just like the rest of you and would love to do it in peace as many of you don’t have to deal with the battles days in and day out that he faces unfortunately with certain people who create trouble and do not want to pay in all aspects of society.

    My most important message is not to take it out on the busdrivers who are just trying to do their jobs like everyone else and make a living. Leave them in peace.

    • Robert

      “If the union won’t strike then the drivers should band together and strike and cripple the city transit’s system.”

      I think you rather misunderstand the purpose and history of unions… And if you think sympathy for unionized transit operators amongst the public is low now, wait until they strike. I wouldn’t be surprised if such a strike is met with public demands to break the union and have non-unionized transit operators.

      • a MUNI driver's wife

        I may not know about unions very much as I work in a non-unionized business. I am personally not impressed with unions. I think the original concept of unions was good,but I believe it has moved away from its original purpose and ideals. But San Francisco is a city that has a long history with unionized labor and maybe it is partly due to the high cost of living among other reasons. Why can waiters,police,firefighters for instance have unions yet then you want to eliminate Muni’s union? If paycuts,furloughs,etc are on the board,why not propose this across the board in all unions and city government?

        I believe Mayor Newsom and his staff,even heads at Muni,police/firefighters all have bloated salaries,security costs,transportation costs,travel budgets,etc. Are they getting pay cuts? Are they operating on a bare bones budget like many families? And that is what ultimately the city wants to do(from the mayor’s office,citizens,Muni itself)-break the union of Muni-but again is this proposed across the board? Once you have Muni’s union decimated,then I am sure the unions in other areas will also be attacked. I believe this to be a societal trend as the economy gets worse and big business basically will have its way. I don’t think the Muni union is perfect,but I think we can work with it at least.

        I am curious what do people want out of Muni drivers-what are you looking for? Are you upset they get a decent salary to be able to live in a high col area? Isn’t that why minimum wage is higher here than other cities across the nation because of the col here? So why don’t we turn the minimum wages back now as well to be comparable to the rest of the nation? Do you want a nicer busdriver? I think it goes both ways-I do believe Muni drivers should be respectful and polite,but what is the excuse for passengers then that harrass or are rude or worse- verbally or physically abusive? So what is it exactly that you are all looking for?

        • Robert

          1) SF is a lower cost area than NYC. SF’s transit workers are paid more than NYC’s. If it’s good enough for NYC’s 38,000 union members, it should be good enough for SF’s.
          2) What I want from MUNI is drivers (and transit vehicles) that show up on time. I don’t need the driver to smile at me or be my friend, but I expect them to be professional.
          3) I think this article does a great job of explaining what needs to change with the transit operator’s union contract:
          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/11/BASQ1DCQT4.DTL&tsp=1

      • Muni driver's wife

        Yes, I believe that a Muni driver should be professional and courteous. I do understand they do get a hard time from certain passengers(usually the ones that don’t want to pay) and I understand they are only human. It is interesting that when I asked my husband why he doesn’t smile as he used to on the bus,he tells me when he is nice and conversive with passengers,they usually want something in return like free transfers and so forth. So he is wary now-and I have heard that from other drivers as well. But he is professional.

        I don’t know how they are not on time since my husband tells me if the drivers are not on time they are written up,etc. Even if they are early they are written up. But I can understand how the traffic in SF can cause a delay-that makes sense to me that not every single bus can be on time as I have driven through SF traffic and just the chaos and aggravation with my car getting though the causes me headaches! There should be an expectation of on time buses overall,but there are other factors involved that are sometimes out of the busdriver’s control,don’t you think? I think we have become a spoiled society with too many demands. I do agree that there are some busdrivers who should not be taking Starbuck’s breaks,etc as I read in the stories here on this blog. However,I do also think that Muni should provide adequate bathroom breaks at least with actual bathrooms. Sometimes there isn’t a bathroom available which is inhumane as they work long hours predisposing them to possible utis,kidney infections,etc.

        I read the article you gave the link to and some of those points I actually pointed out in my original letter,but it was omitted by the editors here. There are many improvements that can be made and so much waste I agree (as with many of the city’s departments-it is disgusting). MUNI received a large sum of money for instance and they are changing the fare boxes/gates instead of where it is needed the most-putting drivers out there on the road and having more buses. With the service cuts (and many drivers are unhappy with this as much as the passengers),my husband was telling me just yesterday the buses are so packed that people can’t even get out and he says he has never seen it so bad.

        Yes, there are too many extraneous people working with the union,management,dispatchers,etc-they need to put them back on the road and trim the other areas. There is a big issue with worker’s comp.-where I work after a few months off,you basically have no job held for you,here they would be off for years and come back for a few short months and then go off again on an injury. There are many people abusing the system and should be imho fired. But this is in any job,there are people who do this and there are laws there to protect them-again originally provided for good intent,but there are those who find ways to take advantage of it. And sick days,my husband never wants to take a day off even when he is sick and I told him you have the sick days and never use it so take it off-he hates to call in sick unless absolutely necessary. He was recently given a week off by the doctor for a heart problem and he took that one day off he was hospitalized and went right back to work the next day(crazy!). So while there are those who abuse the system,there are many others who have a good work ethic and just want to do their job in peace and make a living. So do not lump all busdrivers together and blame all of them as I see it done so often here. The ones that are left and not on sick-call,have to work harder when buses are missing in front of them and they also get the brunt of it from angry passengers wanting to know why they have to wait! Yes,I do agree that management needs to work on disciplining those who abuse the sick call policies which are decent to begin with (and maybe they do,I don’t know as we never had to deal with this-as I said my husband rarely calls in sick).

        And we can go back and forth I guess,but Muni and the city will do what they decide to do -I don’t know if we really have any powers that people seem to think we have. But in the SF Bay Area ,the avg worker’s salary earned 29.26/hour according to the National Compensation survey (April 2009) with protective services types of jobs over 32.12 an hour-and that includes surrounding metropolitan areas. And I believe the new busdrivers coming on are getting much less starting salaries. Again if they do go back to the drawing board and renegotiate the contract then it should leave the door open to allowing strikes as well(all should be open to renegotiation if that is the case). As for part-time drivers,I think it is a good idea to have part-time workers fill in the rush hour peak times.

        • Daishin

          I will respond simply to these long comments. If drivers and other union members feel that they are treated unfairly by Muni then they should simply quit. If they feel that most other union members employed by Muni are abusing the system, then they should either speak up or move on. In other businesses performance is the main basis for job retention. In Muni it is just the opposite.

          I have already signed the ballot petition and look forward to voting for the measure. At this point I feel that having a strike might be the best way for citizens to take back our transit system from Muni management AND the unions.

        • Muni wife

          It is nice that you have that option to be able to quit your jobs so easily. When you have a family to support,shelter to pay for,etc-it is not that easy ESP in this economic climate. Dh has already left for work-woke up 3am and I will be leaving soon too. We are both still grateful for at least having a job and really no matter where u go there are always abuses by others going on.We still have a good work ethic and that is why both of us have stayed so long at our jobs and not quit when the tough gets going like so many do.

  • Muni driver's wife

    BTW,excuse my typos,etc-it is early in the morning and I am still half asleep despite waking up 6 am and I was in a rush trying to get the kids off to school! I may not have been completely coherent yet!;)

  • jenella

    So glad to hear from another Muni wife.
    @ AVolberding your statement, also a popular statement used by the Mayor and Elsenberg “Guaranteeing drivers the second highest salary in the nation” is very misleading…..
    Do you know what that pay is? If I told you that the pay was $61K before taxes, do you still feel that drivers are fairly compensated? IF you read my letter, the first letter from a Muni wife. http://www.munidiaries.com/2010/03/01/a-letter-from-the-wife-of-a-muni-operator/ you would see that $61K is below median wage for residents of San Francisco. And if you live here in the city you would understand how a family of 3 or more could barely get by on this.

    I also find the people out getting signatures misleading the public “change Muni” sign here. It wont change Muni if the snakes get their measure on the ballot. You think drivers are angry and rude now???? They are squeezing the little man, the Muni operators who make the least of all city employees, who the majority are minorities and the city has been and is once again using Muni as a political football.

    My husband came to Muni with a background of over 20 years in sales. Great guy, personality and customer service. But the daily abuse he takes from the people who ride his bus is taking it’s toll! He’s been threatened with a gun twice. Yelled at, doors kicked in and has had to witness domestic violence many times and saved women from being abused. Not to mention no breaks for 9 hours of driving….Yet you Daishin, expect him to respect you? He doesn’t want to be your friend either. He just wants to take you were you need to go safely.

    So let the voters end the Charter in November, but expect to walk, bike, or drive yourself to work…… because the operators can then strike!

  • jenella

    Check out what city employees make the most in pay and overtime…… Still can’t find a single Muni operator in the list!

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/04/13/SFPay2009.DTL

    • Muni wife

      If I remember correctly dh made 47k one year and it just depends on what run you sign up and get.He has made less with muni and sometimes more ranging 50k to 60k.We had to move from the city being too expensive for us and commute over an hour away each way everyday for 20 years as many drivers do-some even come from Sacramento and even further. All to just make a living.

      And we have a family with 4 kids. Right now he is working a long shift so he wakes up like 3am and is gone til 8 pm just to make up for cuts in pay/run he has to work longer, so we don’t even see him except he comes home to eat dinner and sleeps right away.

      His only overtime is working the Bay to Breakers for the citizens who want extra services for their extra events. If SF citizens want these types of events and they constantly have something going on then don’t complain about ot-how else are you going to get someone to drive on an occasion basis?Tired of all these spoiled like complaints and wanting,demands,etc from just what I have read on this blog alone-can imagine elsewhere. Now I really know what husband goes through w/people. And wait times for buses? Even in the suburbs, you have to wait very long-finally got a car.I remember walking home in the dark on a dangerous area b/c the bus never came (and I waited an hour) and I carried two heavy grocery bags all the way home which was far-and still no bus along the way

      Btw,dh was nice since no one wanted to pay the 10. fare for Bay to Breakers and it was empty -he let people on for regular fare or maybe free I forgot now but he said otherwise he would be driving an empty bus since they rather take the regular buses which were packed.See there are nice drivers.

  • Lets not mince words. Public transportation is a dirty job. Drivers are paid well for the same reason that sanitation workers are paid well. Though the critics like to suggest otherwise, the fact is, there just aren’t that many people out there with the stomach for it. Fortunately for Operators, there are many wonderful people that ride Muni. If not for the pay, benefits and decent folk its unlikely anyone would return after a few weeks of the Muni work experience. Meanwhile, there exists a small group of self-informed “Muni experts”, complainers and critics, who suggest that Muni drivers could be replaced with a new workforce of suckers willing and able to do the job for less. Ever heard the phrase stuck on stupid? For these whiners it’s beggining to look like reincarnation may be their only hope! Meanwhile, its just ignorant to continue the driver bashing because it only provides cover for the MTA as they implement plans to permanently downsize Muni and shift more and more of the costs onto riders. This is whats going on here folks. Wake up!

    • Daishin

      There are literally thousands of people in the Bay Area who would love to have a job as a MUNI employee but the unions make it difficult for any non-union or union-connected person to get through the front door. I firmly believe in the SF union movement as have all members of my family for the last 60 years. But at this point the MUNI union has so much control over who even enters the union that most interested people can’t get a job interview. I would encourage the Board of Supervisors and the MTA to put energy into allowing as many job seekers as possible to interview with MUNI. The pool of possible employees would be huge.

  • Will Johnson

    “the unions make it difficult for any non-union or union-connected person to get through the front door”. Really Daishin? Who told you that? The drivers union, (TWU Local 250A) has absolutely nothing to do with the hiring process. The MTA and the department of human resources decides who does or doesn’t get hired. After a new driver is hired, he or she is immediately initiated into the drivers union.

  • Regarding the buses showing up on time…if the darn cars and pedestrians would get out of the way and not slow down the buses, they would show up on time.

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