From the September-October 2013 issue of News & Letters:
BART workers face strike-breaking tactics
Oakland, Calif.—On Aug. 5 several hundred rallied in support of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers from Service Employees SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555. Transit workers have been trying to negotiate a contract with a modest raise and no more takeaways. Four years ago they had submitted to a wage and hiring freeze.
Every day 400,000 people ride BART to work. Now BART has a $125 million surplus and is offering minuscule wage increases which would be eaten up by increased employee pension and healthcare contributions. Workers making $52,000 a year in the high-cost Bay Area would actually lose $1,900 in net take-home pay after four years.
A four-day strike in early July crippled the daily commute and, according to a local business council, meant $73 million a day in lost productivity. The strike set off a frenzy of media vilification of BART workers for causing the discomfort, but most workers aren’t fooled.
Rather than directly negotiate with workers, BART directors spent $399,000 to contract out their negotiating to a union-busting transit manager, Thomas Hock. Hock’s intransigence has provoked seven transit strikes since 2005. His company, Veolia, has been successfully sued for maintaining a discriminatory hostile environment for minority workers.
After getting nowhere with Hock, BART workers decided to resume their strike. Governor Jerry Brown ordered BART workers back to work for 60 days. Workers are not optimistic that BART will be any more willing to negotiate. Workers from International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 came to declare their support, as did many others. Whatever is negotiated, the rank and file have yet to have their say.
The 1,600 bus drivers, clericals, and mechanics in Alameda County who work for AC Transit just rejected by two to one a concessionary contract negotiated by ATU Local 192. It was the kind of contract offer unions at BART are hoping to get, even though it introduced a $180 monthly healthcare premium over three years. Now, more than ever, it is time for workers to find new ways to stand together in capital’s continuing war on labor.
—Bart rider and strike supporter