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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.

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 Examiner reported 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.

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