Unions representing workers at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which serves the Oakland-San Francisco area, and BART management agreed to end a four-day strike that began July 1.
The two sides accepted a mediator’s request that BART operations resume while the two sides continue to negotiate a new agreement. Workers will continue to work under the terms of a contract that expired June 30. A deadline of August 4 has been set for the new round of negotiations.
“We are happy to be back to work moving the Bay Area, but we do so knowing that BART management has raised hypocrisy to a whole new level,” said Pete Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, which represents 1,430 BART mechanics and maintenance workers. “Management has spent taxpayer money on themselves like they were Wall Street bankers! While BART General Manager Grace Crunican pays herself $320,000 a year, she refuses to adjust employee compensation to simply keep up with the cost of living here in the Bay Area.”
Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, which represents 945 train operators, station agents, and other operations workers, said that her union out of concern for the riding public was willing to return to work and to negotiations in order to make “a last ditch effort” at reaching an agreement. But she also said that the two sides remain far apart.
Both unions question whether BART is serious about reaching a fair agreement and point to its hiring of an anti-union labor consultant to lead BART’s negotiating as proof.
“We regret that BART’s high-paid, out-of-state negotiators did not share (our) commitment to our communities,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU 1021. “They chose to stall and bargain through the media, consequently leaving hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents stranded and costing our local economy hundreds of millions of dollars.”
BART workers have gone four years without a pay raise, but management insists that the new contract include only modest pay raises and higher worker contributions to their health care plan and pension.
Management justifies its concessionary demands by saying that the country’s fifth largest transportation authority needs to make capital improvements that could cost as much as $15 billion over the next 20 years, and to raise the necessary capital, it needs to keep labor costs down.
The unions argue that BART workers already have made plenty of sacrifices. BART workers have not received a pay raise in four years. During that period, the cost of living has increased by 11 percent in a region that is one of the most expensive places to live in the US.
While BART workers’ wages were frozen, BART’s operating revenue increased by 15 percent, and its sales tax revenue by 24 percent.
Instead of asking workers to make more sacrifices, SEIU 1021 in a statement about the strike said that “Wall Street banksters, those who crashed our economy, stole our pensions, and invented new ways to manipulate the market to continue to rob our communities, must pay to fix what they have wrecked.”
In addition to resisting concessions, union members want to make BART safer for the riding public and workers.
During the last three years, 2,400 serious crimes have been committed in five train stations and more than 1,000 passengers and 100 BART workers have suffered physical attacks.
Before going on strike, the unions said that management was not taking its passenger and worker safety concerns seriously and filed an unfair labor practices suit charging BART with refusing to bargain over safety issues.
Safety isn’t the only issue that BART negotiators seem unwilling to address. In fact, union leaders have accused BART of “surface bargaining”–going through the motions without bargaining seriously.
As an example, they point to BART’s actions just prior to the July 1 strike. Mediators on the Friday before the strike happened requested that union negotiators wait in the bargaining room for a new proposal from BART that could avoid a strike. Union negotiators waited for 36 hours, but the BART negotiating team never showed up.
BART’s take-or-leave-it stance isn’t unexpected. Before negotiations began, BART paid Thomas Hock, a labor consultant, $399,000 to lead its negotiating team. Hock, who works for Veolia Transportation, has a reputation for union busting and a history of strained relationships with workers whom he has managed.
“BART management has spent a million dollars of taxpayer money paying consultants to pursue a union busting strategy based on the tactics of what anti-labor forces have done in the Midwest over the last several years.” said Castelli. “But we have news for them: the Bay Area will stand up for working people.”