Muni Operators Could Get Fired for Joining Taxi Strike

Categories: Public Transit
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You can still catch a Muni train that day
SF Weekly recently told readers about how taxi drivers and Muni operators were planning to team up in an Aug. 2 strike to defy their boss -- the San Francisco Transportation Agency.

It turns out Muni operators can't strike, technically. According to the most recent Muni contact agreement, which was forced on the union, they could get fired for striking.

But that won't stop some Muni drivers from joining the cabbies at City Hall for the 24-hour strike.

Walter Scott, secretary of TWU Local 250A , which represents more than 2,000 Muni workers, told us that, as a union, operators won't be taking any official action that day. What the union will do is look the other way if Muni drivers who are off that day decide to join the taxi protest.

"If there are operators are off that day and [they] want to carry picket signs or go to the meeting and speak in favor [of taxi drivers], then operators are more than welcome to do that on their own time," Scott told SF Weekly.

The union will also offer financial resources to help taxi drivers with the strike, Scott says. "I feel for them," he says.

Cabbies are also upset about the 5 percent credit card processing fee they have to shell out each time a passenger pays by card. They're also distressed of the SFMTA's proposal to add an electronic waybill system and rear seat payment terminals. The waybill system would allow the transit agency to track fare information, which drivers say is intrusive.

The Taxi Advisory Council is expected today to discuss lowering those fees to 3 percent, but even that won't change the cab drivers' plans to disrupt service come Aug. 2.

"They are still not listening to us," Tariq Mehmood, a cab driver organizing the strike, told the Examiner. "Our No. 1 concern is the electronic waybill system."

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Dean Clark
Dean Clark

The following is a highlight and recap of a discussion I hadwith SF taxi driver Dean Clark.


Clark is a gate and gastaxi driver working night shifts at National Cab.  Clarkalleges that in April of 2010, his taxi was struck by another vehicle driven byan uninsured motorist at 8th St. and Minna, in which he had suffered, and stillsuffers from injuries unaccounted for today.  Here are the highlights ofthe accident, and the details of what later took place with the cab company, asthey have been relayed to me.


In April of 2010, Clark wasdriving southbound on 8th St. in the far right lane.  A woman in anothercar was heading westbound on Minna.  She attempted to crossover 8th Stto get to the other side of Minna, but in doing so, struck the front driver’sside of Clarks taxi, causing the taxi tospin.  Clark says that upon impact, thetaxi’s seatbelt locking mechanism had failed, and that no airbags were deployedbecause the vehicle did not have any.  Consequently, Clark’shead hit the front windshield, and as the car spun, also hit the side window,causing blurred “temporary blindness”, for several hours.


He says his legs struck the front of the cars interiorcausing temporary loss in the use of his legs.  After being taken to General Hospital, his vision and limited use ofhis legs returned, although with numbness.


According to Clark’stelling of the accident, the cab company at the time, and possibly the policereport, claimed that the woman had liability insurance.  But after filinga claim, the insurance company said that the woman’s policy had been canceledrecently because of lack of payment, and then had then been reinstated, butonly after the accident occurred.  Therefore, the woman’s insurancecompany denied the injury claim.  


This led to Clark beingreferred to National Cab’s attorney.  But Clark says the cab company’sattorney didn’t want to represent Clark in aworkers’ comp claim nor defer him to another attorney.  Neither did thecab company post information about California’sWorkers’ Compensation laws anywhere at the company where drivers could see it.


According to Clark, after National Cab had initially delayedin filing a workers’ comp claim, and then seemingly repudiated further attemptto do so, he contacted the cab company’s insurance carrier, which he identifiesas Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association (PMA),a Pennsylvanialobbying firm. 


According to PMA’s website, the firm is involved in, “enactingworkers’ compensation reform”, and since 1909, has been, “defendingfree enterprise and fighting to improve the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s businessclimate.”


Clark says that when hecontacted the firm, it had denied any knowledge of a policy number associatedwith National Cab, and that the medical bills resulting from the accident todate have gone unpaid.  After that incident, Clarksought help from a private attorney and is currently being represented by thatattorney. 


In another matter not related to the accident, but relatedto Clark’s relationship to National Cab, anMRI revealed white spots in his brain. Clarksays he believes it could be from long-term exposure to cab fumes. 


Dean Clark…


“For the first three years or so driving for NationalCab, I was placed in some of the most nastiest cabs you could everimagine.  And my clothes and everything else would smell like a sweetodor.  And we’re not talking about dirty.  We’re talking about somesort of odor or gas because it would make you light headed.  I would haveheadaches sometimes for almost seven hours and would have to takeExedrin.  So I started getting worried about that so I went to the doctor(Kaiser).  The doctor there took three different blood tests at threedifferent random times throughout the course of a year or two, and found that Ihave high carbon monoxide levels.” 


According to Clark,National Cab told him his high carbon monoxide levels were the result of himbeing a smoker. 


Going back to the accident though, he says he has beendiagnosed with post concussion syndrome, three herniated discs, vision issuesand others as a result.  He continues to see a neurologist, and stillsuffers pain from the three herniated discs.


As for airbags, the San Francisco Municipal TransportationAgency (SFMTA) does not require taxis to be equipped with airbags, which Clark believes could have dramatically prevented theinjuries.  Nor does it require cab companies to carry uninsured motoristcoverage in their insurance policies.  But Transportation Code DivisionII, Article 1100 Section 1106(i) does state…


“Color Scheme Permit Holders shall comply with allapplicable state laws and regulations concerning Workers’ Compensation”.(Transportation Code Division II, Article 1100 Section 1106(i))


With regards to state laws and regulations concerningWorkers’ Compensation, this following excerpt is from a memorandum put out in 2008 by the formerSF Taxi Commission.


"The state judicial system has affirmed that California taxi driversare employees for purposes of workers' compensation in certain employmentsituations.  These employment situations have included "gate andgas" drivers.  Local cases making this finding include Tracy v. YellowCab Co-Operative, Inc. (San Francisco Superior Court No. 938786) and YellowCab Cooperative Inc. V. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (1991) 226Cal.App.3d 1288.  Another case on point is Santa CruzTransportation, Inc. v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (1991) 235Cal.App.3d 1363."


(SF Taxi Commissionmemorandum 2008)


In the same memorandum, the former taxi commission held thatSan Franciscocab companies are required by State laws to purchase and maintain workers’compensation coverage for individual taxi drivers.  This excerpt citedlocal codes pursuant to California’slaws.


"Municipal Police Code 1147.4 provides:


All persons, firms or corporations holding taxicab colorscheme permits pursuant to Section 1125(b) of this Article shall comply withall applicable state statues concerning workers' compensation and anyapplicable regulations adopted pursuant to those statutes.  Taxicab colorscheme permit holders must include a sworn statement attesting to compliancewith such applicable statutes and regulations as part of an annual filingrequired by Section 1095 of this Article.


Rule 5.H.16 requires that "the color scheme holdermust have a copy of Certificate of Worker's Compensation Insurance prominentlydisplayed at the place of business so that it is visible to drivers." This is based on CaliforniaLabor Code 3350 which requires the same posting.  Notably, Labor Code 3550administers a civil penalty of up to $7000 for failure to post the certificate. The Commission also assesses a fine of $75 for the first offense offailure to post a current certificate."  


(SF Taxi Commission memorandum 2008)


“I’m fed up.  You can’t treat people like this”, says Clark.  He says he wants the lawmakers and thepublic to understand his experience.   “I hope that they gain someperspective of what San Francisco taxi drivers have to go through, and howunderrepresented we truly are”, he says.


“Also when it comes to looking for a lawyer, for looking forsomeone to represent us, we’re just underrepresented across the board. And things like that need to change.”


Clark has an attorney, andsays he expects his case will eventually go to court.

San FranciscoMunicipal Transportation Agency can fine a cab company for failure to complywith workers' compensation laws $45 per day for each day without insurance. (Transportation Code Division II, Article 1100 Section 1106(i)Schedule of Fines)


It seems pretty reasonable to require taxis to be equipped with airbags, and to require uninsured motorist coverage. Do drivers not maintain their own driver's insurance?


Dean - if this is an issue you're so passionate about, you should be able to summarize it in your own words as opposed to cutting/pasting someone else's article...

Dean Clark
Dean Clark

    WHYTHE TAXI  TURMOIL? – Fri,May 20, 2011



DURING THE PAST THREE DECADES San Francisco was home to the most driver-friendlytaxicab legislation on the planet. A groundbreaking 1978 law stipulated thatthe city’s taxicab “medallions” (the permits that allow the holder to put onecab on the streets) would no longer be held by taxicab companies but by veterancab drivers.


The cab company ownersloathed the new arrangement, and between 1978 and 2007 they crafted eightseparate ballot measures intended to restore their supremacy. Eight times thecity’s enlightened voters said, “No -- we like our cabdrivers. The law stays.”

                                                             - - -


BUT IN 2007,a group of City Hall and taxicab industry insiders pulled off a fast one. Theprincipals have never admitted their roles, but here’s how the deal went down:


2007 was an “off-year”election (no contests for President, Governor, Senator, or Representative, nocontroversial ballot measures) and it was understood that voter turnout wouldbe feather-light. Deep within the fine-print legalese of a mind-numbing,ten-page ballot proposal (“Transit Reform, Parking Regulation and EmissionsReductions”) the insiders hid a bomb -- three devastating sentences that would abolishthe San Francisco Taxicab Commission and place the cab industry under thecontrol of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Most cunningly,the bill specified that all previous taxicab legislation would be nullified,and henceforth any decree from the SFMTA would automatically be law in thetaxicab industry. The measure squeaked through with the “yes” votes of a mere15% of the electorate, who had no idea they’d just sabotaged the City’s 7,000cab drivers.

                                                                   - - -


THE SAN FRANCISCO MUNICIPAL TRANSPORTATION AGENCY is a sprawl-ing octopus of more than 5,000 salariedemployees. Its flagship enterprise is Muni, the perennially beleaguered bus andsubway system whose brink-of-bankruptcy woes often scream from the headlines.The SFMTA’s director is paid $308,837 per year. The average Muni bus driverearns $82,000. In addition to paychecks, all SFMTA workers receive sick leave,paid vacations, and comprehensive health and retirement packages. (Cab driversreceive zero benefits. A typical driver earns approx $30,000/year. Medallionholders can earn an additional $25,000 or so by renting out their cabs andmedallions.)


The SFMTA just about wet itspants when the taxicab industry was delivered, bound-and- gagged, onto itsdoorstep. One SFMTA director publicly proposed confiscating all 1,500medallions (no matter that medallion holders have invested their lives into thecab industry) for sale to the highest bidder. A veteran city attorney wasassigned to conduct “taxicab industry town hall meetings” at which she wasstraight-up with those of us who attended: her job, she told us, was to figureout how to extract mega-millions from the taxicab industry -- ASAP! We cab drivers were invited tooffer suggestions on how the extraction mechanisms might be most efficientlystructured, but the eventual outcome was non-negotiable. Don’t like it? Well, tough! Elections have consequences…

                                                                     - - -


BY MID-2010all of the various tubes and spigots of the gleaming new money pipeline wereoperational. By May 2011 the SFMTA reported that, so far, $10 million hadflowed from the low-paid,benefit-less, health care-less workers in the taxicab industry into the compensation packages of theSFMTA. The cab driver body watched all this unfold and finally began to ask, Can this really be happening right here inGod’s Favorite City? And: Are we not human, too?


The confusing reports you’veheard (5% credit card fees? Backseat advertising terminals? Honking cabssurrounding City Hall?) make no sense without knowing that these are theinevitable results of the 2007 coup engineered by the City Hall “in-crowd,” acoup brilliantly designed to transfer an actualfortune from some of San Francisco’s least-compensated workers to some of itsbest-compensated. The news media have all but ignored this story, but we cabdrivers can no longer afford to.

                                                                         * * *


The five-percent credit card fees?  The cab companies recently complained abouthaving to pay 2-3% fees to credit card companies. The SFMTA said, “Ah, hell --that’s chump change. Take 5% from the drivers, and keep the difference? Happynow?”


Backseat advertising terminals?  Advertisers and terminal vendors will paythe SFMTA a pile to wedge these noisy machines into our workplaces--your ridingand psychic space.


Fare increase?  Hearing our howls, the SFMTA is tossing a diversionary scrap our way.


A cab strike?  It’s reallyhard for most cab drivers to see much of a choice here…



Quote of the week -- A 25-year veteran driver, discussing the Arab Spring: “For 40 or 50 years, the people under thesedictators have been afraid to say anything. In Palestine we have a saying: ‘Theonly time I open my mouth is when I go to the dentist.’ But now we are speakingup. People say, ‘I have this shitty life. The politicians have mansions, greattrips, luxury cars, foreign bank accounts… And now I’m going to open my mouth.Maybe I will still have this shitty life, but even if I die I’m going to openmy mouth.’ This is what we are saying now…”


                    Brad Newsham, Green Cab#914, cab driver since 1985 --


                       FEEL FREE TO COPY AND DISTRIBUTE

Charles Rathbone
Charles Rathbone

At Luxor Cab, we have had "electronic waybills" for over ten years.  We use them to identify drivers involved in accidents and complaints.  Now you know why drivers don't want electronic waybills.


Exactly. There are plenty of legitimate issues to discuss when it comes to improving both taxi and Muni service in the city, which includes looking at safer working conditions for the drivers of both types of transportation. As a occasional taxi passenger and frequent transit rider, I'm all for keeping our drivers safe and helping them to be more efficient. Credit card fees are an issue, but it is one that was already being addressed long before anyone was threatening a strike. Rear seat advertisement terminals are stupid and obnoxious, but surely that relatively unimportant issue can be defeated through rational discussion rather than a strike?

That leaves the electronic waybills. We're talking about a system that records where the taxi goes, how long the trip took, what the fare was, etc... All cab drivers are supposed to be accurately recording this kind of information on paper today, but the paper-based logs are incredibly cumbersome. With an electronic waybill, a passenger with a lost item, a compliment, or a complaint could identify their taxi based on the time and their pick-up/drop-off points. The police could more easily examine waybills to get more information about suspects who fled by taxi, like in last week's Union Square art theft. More information would be available in the event a taxi driver is attacked or a cab is stolen. This kind of data can even support taxi drivers who are being accused of offenses not substantiated by the waybill. Traffic engineers could aggregate the data to see hotspots and patterns in taxi usage, allowing the city to construct additional taxi stands, taxi drivers to have new information about where cabs are in demand, and perhaps even for Muni to investigate improving public transit where it is needed most. That all sounds pretty good to me, and it's not like it would be prohibitively expensive: many San Francisco taxis have been doing it for well over a decade, and the same technology is used in many trucks and commercial vehicles.

So what about the "privacy concerns" the cab drivers are complaining about? As far as I know, no one is looking to collect any kind of additional sensitive information here, just where the taxi goes and where it picks up/drops off passengers. The only "private" record at issue here is a record of what the taxi driver does with his cab. Frankly, I don't see how there's a right to privacy for the basic actions of an on-duty taxi driver. Don't want a record kept of your movements? That's very simple; don't ask for a special license to pick up strangers off the street and charge money to drive them around town. By trusting you with that exclusive privilege, we're asking you to follow certain rules, and a basic electronic record of your on-the-job actions is not so unreasonable.


Talk to your colleagues Joe Eskenazi and/or Benjamin Wachs.  I'm pretty sure Muni operators can't strike because the City Charter forbids them from striking, not because of terms in their contract.


That's what I said ,but somehow my comment was deleted. The charter is very explicit in saying that city employees can't strike. I really wish this piece of info was corrected - people were quoting this all day yesterday.


Excellent!  Any muni drivel that shows up in uniform or have signs while operating a muni vehicle should be terminated with extreme prejudice, forfeit their pension and from future city employment.

If they do it on their own time so be it.

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