Clarceen Caldwell, a retired Muni driver, approached Jesus Romero Jr. to try to convince him to vote against a November ballot measure that takes aim at the pay of San Francisco's bus drivers. "Have you heard of Proposition G?" Caldwell asked Romero, a former marine, as he filled up his white Ford F-250 in the Portola neighborhood on Thursday morning.
"Negative," he shouted.
Caldwell, an outgoing 63-year-old who is helping her former union fight the popular campaign, made her pitch: Proposition G will not fix Muni's problems. It will only cut drivers' pay.
The measure would set salaries by collective bargaining instead of by the unique provision in San Francisco's charter that guaranteed Muni operators the second-highest wages of any transit workers in the country.
The average pay for the 2,200 members of San Francisco Transport Workers Union Local 250-A is $29.50 an hour.
Romero, a tall energetic 34-year-old wearing sunglasses and a T-shirt with a local union logo, was not responding sympathetically to Caldwell's pitch.
The conversation with Caldwell provoked Romero -- as it does many voters -- to bemoan Muni. He complained about crowded buses and a driver who told him to lower his voice when he said good morning. During the recession, Romero told Caldwell, he went from being paid $30 an hour as a generator technician to $15 an hour working for a general contractor.
"I just lost my home," he said, waving his hands vigorously and talking loudly. "When it comes to cutting pay, you know everyone's feeling the crunch."
"It's rightfully ours, it's been in the charter" for four decades, Caldwell said.
"But everybody's taking a pay cut these days!" he answered.
After venting, however, he conceded that Muni operators have a difficult job. He said he did not become a bus driver because he probably would have smacked somebody.
After the conversation, Romero said he was still undecided.
Proposition G is being spearheaded by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and easily got enough signatures from voters to make it onto the ballot. With the city struggling financially, public employee unions are under attack. Even in this pro-union city, sympathy from voters is fading.
As she walked away, Caldwell -- who had more success with other potential voters -- said the economy makes the unions' campaign more difficult.
"As they say, 'misery loves company,'." she said. "I understand that a lot of people are having hard times, but all I'm saying is don't bring me down there with you."