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Cable cars, bus service stalled again in San Francisco after city transit workers call in sick

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SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco's famed cable cars halted for a second straight day, and the rest of the city's transit system experienced delays after drivers called in sick again on Tuesday, days after overwhelmingly rejecting a new labour contract, officials said.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said it was running about half of its normal weekday service. Though that was up from a day earlier, riders were warned that they would still experience significant delays. Cable cars were not running.

"We're doing everything we can to get our operators back to work," spokesman Paul Rose told KTVU-TV. "We hope they get back soon so we can provide the service for our customers."

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 2,200 operators represented by Transport Workers Union Local 250-A rejected the contract by a 1,198 to 42 vote Friday, according to totals on the union's website.

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

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

"Sick leave is available to employees when they or a family member is sick or in need of medical care," Alicia John-Baptiste, the transit agency's chief of staff, wrote in a memo to staff on Monday. "It would be dishonest to claim entitlement to sick leave when these circumstances do not pertain."

Monday's surprise slowdown led to long lines, as most trains and buses running were at capacity.

On Monday, a fare inspector at the start of cable car lines at Powell and Market streets broke the bad news to dozens of tourists who had planned to ride the historic conveyances.

"We're very disappointed," said Willfrid Strauss, 56, who was visiting San Francisco with his new wife, Corinne, from France. The two were married in Las Vegas on Friday.

"We're only here in San Francisco for three days, so this is one of the highlights of our trip," he said.

All express buses were serving every stop again on Tuesday, the transportation agency said. The Bay Area Rapid Transit agency, which serves an area that includes the city, was honouring tickets on city transportation all day from the Daly City and Balboa Park stations to downtown San Francisco.

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

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

Union President Eric Williams called the proposal unfair and said in a statement on the union's website that the city had proposed unreasonable takeaways in wages and benefits.

Calls and emails to union officials were not returned.

Just before Monday evening's commute, Mayor Ed Lee tweeted that the sickout hurts the city's workers and families.

"Transit workers must get back to work and reach labour agreement to keep SF moving," Lee said.

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