Governor Jerry Brown has told the courts to order a 60-day cooling off period to settle the BART contract. The news media is making it sound like the governor is the neutral force who can bring the two sides together and come up with a reasonable contract solution. But what does this really mean? Jerry Brown as governor has made repeated attacks against state workers, pushing concessions, furloughs and making workers pay for their pensions. He is no friend of the BART workers. And basically he and his mediators have been involved behind the scenes in the BART dispute for months with what result? Why would BART workers look to him for a solution?
Ever since the spring, the BART management has made its attitude clear. It hired Hock, a known union buster who has financial interests in privatizing transit, as its lead negotiator. Then it waited as long as possible to start the negotiations and basically refused to bargain seriously on any major issues, while issuing press statements attacking BART workers.
Management pushed the BART unions into calling a strike by its inaction. And then it used the news media to encourage and showcase negative reactions of commuters unable to get around, to put more pressure on the unions to give in and accept takeaways. Over a month later, the BART management is still refusing to bargain seriously. So why would anyone believe that a two-month cooling off period will change management’s attitude?
The issues for the workers are clear. After years of giving up wages and benefits of $100 million, BART workers want and need to catch up. The Bay Area is one of the most expensive places to live and workers want a contract that allows them to provide for their families, afford decent health care and know that when they retire they will be able to support themselves after decades of work. They want safe conditions so that they don’t have to be afraid to be alone in their stations.
The money is there. Rider-ship is up and that means a big increase in revenue. All the big corporations benefit from BART taking workers to their door. Let them pay more taxes to modernize the BART system. Let them pay if they want a BART extension. In no case should the workers have to sacrifice another cent.
But this is not what the BART management wants. They want to spend the taxpayers’ money paying themselves huge salaries, enriching their construction partners and the companies that manufacture the BART cars. They want to hold the line for all the Bay area bosses who don’t want their profits touched by having to pay their workers higher wages and benefits.
If BART workers keep depending on the Jerry Browns or the Gavin Newsoms or the other politicians, there is little reason to hope that BART workers will get the contract that they want and deserve. These politicians have showed over and over again that they are the servants of the bosses not the workers. And if the workers keep hoping that somehow the union officials will be able to talk their way into a good contract behind closed doors, how many times do we have to see this fail to know it isn’t a good choice? No – waiting on others will just mean being disappointed.
But there is a considerable force that BART workers can count on – themselves. The strike in July showed how much power transit workers have – how important their work is in the Bay Area. And imagine if the AC Transit workers had joined in the strike as well? But to use this power effectively, workers can’t just go out on an official strike for a few days. Workers would need to really get active and organize themselves.
If BART workers organized teams and went to every BART station with leaflets they wrote explaining the issues involved, and talked to riders and let other workers know the real issues – what a difference that would make! What happens to the BART workers affects all workers in the Bay area. And all workers have an interest in seeing the BART workers win.
If BART workers want a different outcome, they will have to decide to organize a fight themselves. What happens next is still to be decided.