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7 Key Things You Need to Know About the BART Strike in California

News and social media are awash in misunderstanding and disinfo about the strike. Here are the facts that matter.
 
 
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On Monday, 2,400 workers put a halt on the San Francisco Bay Area’s main public transit system to strike for fair wages and better working conditions. These Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers, members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, were out picketing and rallying after their contracts expired Sunday night and negotiations were not reached. The last time BART workers went on strike was in 1997.

As misinformation and distortion has spread around the strike, here are the key facts:

1. The strike was a last resort as negotiations failed.

While BART spokesperson Rick Rice pompously declared in an issued statement that “This strike is not necessary,” the negotiations between BART management and unions have been going on for three months. Josie Mooney, spokesperson for SEIU 1021 stated: “BART management is engaging in what is called ‘surface bargaining. …They’re trying to appear in public like they are working to keep the trains running, but they’re doing nothing to respond to good-faith offers by BART workers aimed at avoiding a strike.” The unions said that BART management has failed to provide them with the budget they have to work with in order to negotiate.

Meanwhile, BART officials are making weak proposals that ultimately give workers less. While union leaders are demanding a 4.5 percent annual raise over the next three years, BART officials proposed a two percent annual increase over the next four years, which would ultimately cut their net pay — especially as workers are recently faced with having to contribute to their pensions (while not being eligible for Social Security) and pay $92 a month for health insurance. This proposal would also be contingent on "factors including ambitious ridership increases, sales tax revenues, and reductions in the number of employees taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act."

Therefore, on Sunday night at 8 P.M., when BART negotiators informed union leaders that they had no new proposal, the union leaders went to their union halls for discussion — informing negotiators where to find them if any new proposal were to arise. BART officials have since attempted to spin the story, stating that union members were walking away from negotiations.

2. The money is there.

During the recession, workers sacrificed $100 million in wage increases and other benefits. But over the past three years, BART has seen a surplus in its budget, as ridership revenue and sales tax revenue rise. But the workers haven’t seen a pay increase in four years.

President of the ATU 1555, Antonette Bryant stated that "instead of negotiating, BART directors have hired high-priced political operatives to run a smear campaign against its own workforce." She also wrote that the trend to forecast deficit has been used to deny workers fair wages:

Imagine if every four years you had to negotiate your salary, health and retirement benefits, hours and working conditions with politicians who, as we know from gridlock in Washington, instinctively play games rather than compromise. It’s not easy. …

BART itself is forecasting an annual operating surplus of $125 million per year for the next 10 years. But because this is a contract negotiations year with its union workers, BART’s politicians once again have projected an overall budget deficit of $10 billion over 25 years that workers and riders are supposed to resolve.

3. BART workers are not greedy.

As BART officials have inflated the salary figures of BART train operators and station agents to an average of $71,000 annually, the SF Examinerreported workers make a maximum of $62,000 annually. While this still may seem like a decent salary, a family of four living in the Bay Area need $74,341 a year just to get by.

Meanwhile, BART general managers make an average $399,000 a year. A 2009 investigative research report found that BART managers spend millions travelling and wining and dining at taxpayers expense. 

4. Worker safety is also a huge part of negotiations.

Besides demanding fair wages and compensation packages, workers are also requiring improved safety conditions, such as lighting improvements in the underground trackways and improved trainings. Since 2009, BART employee injuries have risen 43 percent. Meanwhile assaults on station agents went from nine percent to 31 percent last year. These attacks include rape and homicide.

As BART officials have refused to acknowledge and negotiate safer working conditions, the two unions have filed a lawsuit charging BART’s elected Board of Directors as refusing to bargain in good faith over worker safety.

5. More than just a BART strike. 

While the BART strike is drawing national attention, another strike also took off in the Bay Area on Monday. More than 3,000 Oakland City workers went on a one-day strike, as an attempt to put pressure on the government for stalling negotiations. These workers included street and park maintenance employees, librarian assistants, etc. Head Start and senior center programs were affected. The last time Oakland city workers went on strike was in 1946.

AC Transit, the major bus service in the East Bay, is undergoing negotiations as workers' contracts also expired Sunday at midnight. Though talks resume, if ATU 192 also decides to strike, it would bring the East Bay to a halt.

6. Everyone’s wrongly complaining about their commute.

So, the 400,000 people who ride BART each weekday had to find an alternative route to work. The Bay Bridge was like a “parking lot,” buses were swamped and the lines for other public transit were long. We get it. That’s what happens when a major public transportation system — the fifth busiest rapid transit system in the country — shuts down.

But instead of focusing on why there’s a BART strike and what’s at stake for the workers, some people on Twitter took to complaining about their extra long commute. Even worse, the media too focused heavily on  the lengthy commute today and providing alternative routes instead of on the important stuff. … Typical.

BART officials have played into this by offering apologies, blaming the unions and ‘doing their best’ to provide alternative transit options. But when people become over-concerned about an inconvenience, they forget that these brave BART workers are, in essence, fighting for all workers. And they are certainly forgetting that if BART truly cared about their riders, they would have negotiated properly before their workers contract expired.

7. Silicon Valley capitalizes on the strike.

But perhaps even more insensitive than Bay Area residents and media outlets are the techies in Silicon Valley, who are exploring ways to profit off of the BART strike. One company is even promoting helicopter rides from between San Francisco and the East Bay. As Gawkerreported, “Here's how thinking about the world works in Silicon Valley: when public transportation is disrupted (in the old sense) due to labor disputes, that's not an inconvenience! It's an opportunity to plug your app and offer helicopter rides—literally fly over society's problems.

Reports state that currently no talks are scheduled, and therefore, the strike will continue.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

 
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