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San Francisco transit 'sickout' in 3rd day

By SUDHIN THANAWALA and TERRY COLLINS

Associated Press SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - San Francisco's famed cable cars remained idle on Wednesday morning on the third day of a worker sickout, but light-rail trains and buses returned to their regular routes as service improved.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was operating at about 70 percent of its normal service, up from 50 percent a day earlier and 33 percent on Monday, spokesman Paul Rose said.

Rose said cable cars could also resume service in the afternoon.

"The fact that we have more vehicles on the street than the last two days leaves us cautiously optimistic," he said.

Workers and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are at odds over a new contract. Workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal on Friday that union officials said would have resulted in a pay cut.

The drivers' union president, Eric Williams, said Tuesday that the labor group has nothing to do with the sick calls and urged those who called out to be prepared to have a doctor's note.

The agency known as Muni runs buses, light rail and street cars in addition to the cable cars and serves about 700,000 passengers each day. Its operators, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, rejected the contract by a 1,198-42 vote Friday, according to totals on the union's website.

Williams declined to comment on operators calling in sick because he said the union had no role in sanctioning the move. He sent a letter to union members Tuesday urging them to only use sick leave for "legitimate purposes."

The workers are not allowed to go on strike, but they can call in sick.

Transit officials said those who reported being sick must confirm they were ill to get sick pay and could be subject to discipline up to being fired.

Williams told union members "to resume and continue the excellent service we give the public" and that while having a doctor's note is not normal practice, the agency has emphasized it because of the callouts.

Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement that he joins riders throughout the city in their frustration at the drivers who have "irresponsibly abandoned their jobs and intentionally disrupted" service.

"This cannot continue," Lee said. "I say to our drivers, 'People count on you to do your job so they can get to theirs.'"

The contract that Muni workers rejected would have given them a raise of more than 11 percent over two years. However, it also would have required them to cover a 7.5 percent pension payment currently paid by the transit agency, said Rose, the agency spokesman.

The contract would have increased operator pay to $32 an hour, making them the second highest paid transit workers in the country, Rose said.

Williams said other city workers were getting a better pension deal than Muni drivers.

"Our members are hard-working, and all we want is fairness," Williams said.

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Associated Press writer Channing Joseph contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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