Clock Is Ticking With 72-Hour BART Strike Notice: Here's Everything You Need to Know About the Negotiations
Union members attend Thursday's labor rally in downtown Oakland.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Figueroa
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Following in her mother's footsteps, Yuri Hollie applied and was hired as a station agent at the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), the Bay Area’s major transit network, in 1996. About 400,000 people ride BART daily, making it the nation's fifth busiest rapid transit system.
“It’s a great job,” she said, “and I hope it stays that way.”
The station agents in her union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, eventually elected Hollie to represent them on the executive board. Now, she sits at the negotiation table, bargaining for a fair contract for the BART workers, whose unions gave BART authorities a 72-hour strike notice on Thursday. The strike is set to take place on Sunday, Aug. 4 at midnight if no deal is reached. It will be the second BART strike after the 30-day cooling off period requested by California governor Jerry Brown.
Hollie is a single mother, who is trying hard to figure out how she will be able to afford her daughter’s college when she enrolls this year. She is also going through a loan modification process on her house because she is struggling to afford the mortgage. She also works a second job as a real estate agent. Hollie said she will continue to fight hard for BART workers to have decent wages and benefits.
“We want to educate members of the union, as well as the working class, and bring them up to standard, where they can afford to work where they live. Because with what we make, we can barely afford to work where we live,” she said. “A lot of our members have lost their homes already. Gas prices have skyrocketed....A huge number of our members are single parent families, and we’re just barely getting by.”
The Issues That Divide
The unions — ATU 155 and SEIU 1021, which together represent about 2,400 workers — and BART management are still divided on the huge sticking points of wages, healthcare and pension benefits. During the recession, workers sacrificed $100 million in wage increases and other benefits. They haven’t received a raise in the past four years. Meanwhile, BART has seen a surplus from increased ridership. Unions say BART has projected a surplus of $125 million each year for the next decade.
BART management has stated that station agents and train operators have an average salary of $71,000 a year. The unions say those numbers are inflated. Hollie said she doesn’t even make that after 16 years of working for BART.
“The workers are very, very upset,” Hollie said. “We’re being persecuted with Karl Rove-like passion in the press. They put our wages out inflated...that we make these exorbitant salaries when we don’t.”
SEIU spokesperson Cecille Isidro said it’s hard to calculate workers’ average earnings. She said SEIU 1021 represents more than 79 different classifications of worker, from system service workers who clean the stations, to those who maintain the software for the system.
“To try to average them out…it’s not really an accurate picture,” she said.
Pete Castelli, SEIU’s executive director of fields and programs, said people don’t have an accurate picture of what a BART worker does each day.
“There’s a lot of skilled workers at BART,” Castelli said. “People make it sound like there’s someone flicking a switch, standing there, yawning all day and the train just runs. ”
He said the mechanics who work on BART trains have to understand the ins and outs of the trains, while train drivers sometimes have to manually switch tracks on the railways.