BART workers forced to strike

From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:

BART workers forced to strike

Oakland, Cal.—“One day longer, one day stronger!” shouted a transit worker to kick off a noon rally on Oct. 18 at Oakland’s Lake Merritt BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. SEIU (Service Employees Int’l Union) Local 1021 and ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 1555 had shut down the trains shortly after midnight.

Photo by David M'Oto for News & Letters

Photo by David M’Oto for News & Letters

BART officials and the unions announced a settlement late Monday night, Oct. 21. Terms of the settlement were not made public before ratification by the rank and file. Till workers see the agreement, the big worry will be what work rules did the unions give away.

The strike would have started four days earlier had the unions not held out hope that managers would eventually come to their senses. But, as one worker remarked, every time union negotiators eased up, management countered with a position they knew union reps would reject.

For instance, when only two or three points remained unresolved, the unions suggested they be resolved through binding arbitration. BART agreed only on condition that all points, not just a few, be reviewed and settled by the arbiter, a move that could have made months of grueling marathon negotiations all for naught.

Many of those points were not about pay increases, but working conditions. BART has yet to address employee complaints of rat-infested break rooms reeking of urine. Numerous reports of sexual harassment have been met with silence.

Safety issues such as security for passengers and station agents get scant attention, as do workplace hazards. On Saturday Oct. 19 two BART employees inspecting tracks were struck and killed by a train operated by a non-union trainee under management direction.

BART officials reluctantly admitted they were training managers to operate trains during strikes. Officials equally reluctantly returned to the bargaining table after the two deaths from their strikebreaking plan had been publicly exposed.

Before details of the tentative settlement could even be made public, so-called progressive California politicians had vowed to take away the legal right to strike from union workers at BART, in the name of protecting the riders.

—D.M.

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