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Hundreds of Muni operators risk termination as vaccination deadline nears

San Francisco transit passengers could be facing major service cuts as the Nov. 1 vaccination deadline approaches for city employees.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin told the board Tuesday that a total of 640 SFMTA employees — about 11 percent of the agency’s workforce — have either not reported their vaccination status or are unvaccinated, according to data through Thursday. Less than 50 employees have requested a medical or religious exemption, transit officials said.

If that figure holds by the Nov. 1 deadline, Tumlin said those SFMTA employees could face termination, which will impact transit and parking operations.

Tumlin said:

“We absolutely do not want any of our employees to lose their jobs or their incomes, and we’re going to keep working to support our workforce in every way we can.”

The agency could lose 313 Muni operators, which would cause service reduction back to May 2021 levels. While the agency is in the process of hiring and training additional operators, the new hires would basically just cancel out those lost due to vaccination status, leaving no surplus operators. 

The initial weeks following the Nov. 1 deadline are expected to be “chaotic,” Tumlin said, adding:

“The impacts will be severe and rather unpredictable transit.”

Tumlin noted that the agency might experience service issues over Halloween weekend, which would also impact other major events, including Outside Lands, a Chase Center Warriors game and potential World Series games at Oracle Park.

Among city employees who have yet to confirm full vaccination status are about 19 percent of all parking control officers. The transit agency said it may partially suspend enforcement on vehicle abandonments, booting and commuter shuttles.

The possible officer shortage may also result in reduction of enforcement for residential parking permits, meters and disabled placards, as well as reduced staffing at Chase Center events.

About eight schools could see a reduction in crossing guards and up to four schools could lose crossing guards entirely, the agency said.

Tumlin said the agency is making efforts to educate staff about the vaccine and to provide easy access. They’ve hosted pop-up vaccination clinics at SFMTA facilities, held staff meetings with public health experts and displayed posters to dispel vaccine misinformation.

The director said:

“What we’re finding quite clearly is that it is not lack of access to the vaccine that’s the problem. It is actually vaccine hesitancy, and much of that seems to be rooted in the prevailing misinformation that we have seen everywhere in the media.”

One-on-one outreach has also been conducted with employees who have not yet reported their status or declared themselves unvaccinated.

Roger Marenco, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250, the union that represents Muni operators, held a press conference Tuesday and told SFBay that the union demands a revision of the vaccination policy for city employees:

“I would like City Hall to rescind their policy of ‘get vaxxed or get fired’ and implement ‘get vaxxed or get tested.’”

Marenco said transit operators are The City’s “bloodline,” adding:

“Without us, nobody goes to work, school, church. Nobody goes shopping, to their doctor’s appointments. Nothing happens without the buses in the City and County of San Francisco.”

Marenco also added that some transit operators believe Muni passengers should also be vaccinated if operators are forced to do so.

The clock is ticking for operators seeking a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses taken three weeks apart. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the more viable option, transit officials said.

Board directors requested that Tumlin return with an update in two weeks.

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