San Francisco names second female grip in history

Posted on April 19, 2010

With her certification as a grip person for the city's legendary cable car fleet last Monday, Willa Johnson became only the second woman in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's (SFMTA) 137-year history to hold the title.

Johnson's predecessor, Fannie Barnes, retired from active cable car duty in 2002.

"San Francisco's transit system and its operators are as diverse as the City," said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., SFMTA Executive Director/CEO. "I am proud to have Ms. Johnson as an addition to our cable car team and know that she will carry forth Fannie Barnes' legacy in the tradition of all our cable car grip persons, as an ambassador for the City."

Johnson, Local 250-A Secretary for the Cable Car Division and cable car conductor since 2008, felt the job switch from conductor to grip person was necessary to understand the needs of her fellow union members.

"I didn't feel I could represent them effectively until I understood exactly what it is that grip persons do," she said.

Conductors are usually based at the rear of the cable car. Grip persons are located in the front of the car and are responsible for operating the various hand and foot controls that propel and stop the 15,500 pound vehicles.

In a historic meeting that took place this past Wednesday, Johnson received a surprise visit from Barnes, who retired from the Agency in 2007. Barnes presented Johnson with a custom-made set of pink, leather grip covers with her successor's name emblazoned on them. Barnes told Johnson she was handing over the torch to her.

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