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Rather than raise tolls, Golden Gate Bridge moves to lay off 146 employees

District officials in charge of the operations of the Golden Gate Bridge, its buses and ferries voted Friday to lay off employees in response to a budget shortfall the district is facing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a 11-5 vote, directors on the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transit District board approved laying off 146 employees, including bus operators and ferry deckhands. Officials said the layoffs will help close a $48 million budget deficit.

Fifty-nine positions in the district will remain vacant.

Directors Bert Hill Dick Grosboll, Sabrina Hernández, Michael Theriault and Norman Yee voted against the layoffs.

Staff presented three options to the board, including the layoffs or a temporary surcharge of $2 for drivers crossing the bridge. A third option included a temporary surcharge of $1.25 contingent upon an agreement with the unions to one day a week furlough of employees.

Directors could have voted no on all three options, but they would then have to spend money out of the district’s capital reserves to continue paying employees.

General Manager Denis Mulligan said in a staff report that the district has seen a $2 million decrease in revenue every week since the pandemic began in mid-March due to fewer cars crossing the bridge and fewer passengers taking buses and ferries.

Bridge traffic levels are 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while bus ridership is down 75 percent and ferry service is down 96 percent.

Mulligan added that money received from the federal CARES Act runs out in November. It remains unclear if another relief package could pass during the current session of Congress or if the district will have to wait for a package from Congress when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The board did push back the layoffs from the original date of Dec. 5 to Jan. 4 as requested by Director Brian Sobel, who chairs the district’s finance committee. He wanted to issue the layoffs after the holidays. Sobel said:

“This is a horrible and difficult situation that puts our duties as directors at odds with our feelings of compassion for our employees who work hard in our transit and ferry divisions.”

Sobel also pointed to San Francisco heading backwards in the reopening process as city leaders announced earlier this week that restaurants would no longer be able offer indoor dining, saying there will be less people driving, taking the bus and ferries to The City.

Director Theriault said he would have like to spent more time looking at other solutions:

“I don’t believe we have exhausted the possibilities for retaining the employment of those members, those workers we are now talking about laying off.”

A number of employees and union leaders called into the meeting for public comment against the layoffs, including bus operators and ferry workers.

The board approved a $2.1 million severance package for employees being laid off offering them four months of medical benefits and either four weeks of severance pay, or a $600 a week stipend for ten weeks.

Additionally, the board went ahead to approve a 10 percent pay cut for mid-managers, general managers, district officers and board of directors.

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