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SFMTA may lay off 22 percent of workforce to close budget gap

Layoffs and Muni service cuts could be on the horizon at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency after transit officials Tuesday presented its budget outlook for the current and future fiscal years.

The transit agency’s senior budget manager Jonathan Rewers conveyed the grim outlook to the SFMTA Board of Directors, showing a $68 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year and a projected $168 million deficit for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

SFMTA’s Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin already warned agency employees of possible layoffs but share the news publicly during the board meeting. He said it was “painful” to deliver the news to staff, including those now working through the Covid-19 pandemic,

Tumlin said:

“We’re backed into a corner to consider laying off the very workers who have shown up every day on the front line in order to get essential workers to work, who have added their creativity and strength, and wisdom and emotional intelligence to rethinking everything this agency does, in order to be more equitable to engage on complex issues of race and fairness and justice.”

Of the federal CARES Act funding the agency received this year, they’ve already applied approximately $197 million to the last fiscal year and $177 million to the current fiscal year, Rewers said. The CARES Act funding will dry up by the end of December.

Garrick Wong/SFBay San Francisco’s newest Muni trains get ready for a night of testing in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, July 21, 2017.

Ridership and revenue continues to drop. Transit officials project revenue losses ranging from $369 million from $503 million.

Rewers said the transit agency has already saved approximately $118 million by implementing hiring freezes and streamlining operational and contract processes.

Officials say layoffs are a last resort, but if they do become necessary, the agency could lay off as much as 22 percent of its workforce, or 1,226 employees, in the next fiscal year. The staff reduction and subsequent service cuts would have a devastating impact on passengers who rely on Muni.

Currently, Muni is operating about 70 percent of its service, but Covid-19 social distancing requirements has forced capacity reduction inside buses.

Roger Morenco, president of the union that represents Muni operators, said he believes there are feasible solutions to either eliminate or possibly delay any layoffs. Tumlin has said he hopes the SFMTA remains one of the few San Francisco agencies that avoids layoffs — Morenco supports that goal. 

He said:

“We, the Transport Workers Union Local Union 250-A are going to do anything and everything possible to ensure that (Tumlin’s) goals are met.”

He added that despite the “dark and gloomy” presentation by transit staff, he said he has faith they will get through this. Morenco said he planned to meet with agency staff Wednesday to discuss possible solutions.

Ching Wong/SFBay A Muni train enters the SFMTA’s new Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center Muni platform in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, August 6, 2019. (Ching Wong/SFBay)

Gwyneth Borden, the SFMTA board chair, said she wanted to make it clear that no one on the board is excited about the potential of workforce reduction, adding:

“The reality is that we are staring at a very difficult financial circumstance, and we have to be completely honest and transparent.”

During a Covid-19 press briefing Tuesday, Mayor London Breed shared her concerns over the SFMTA’s current budget situation, saying:

“Muni is in deep trouble and we need to do everything we can to save it.”

Other Bay Area transit agencies, including BART and Golden Gate Transit bus and ferry service, have also seen revenue drop sharply since the pandemic began in March. Golden Gate Transit officials last month voted to lay off 146 employees.

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