Riders walk from a Muni bus near the 24th Street Mission Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in San Francisco, Monday, July 1, 2013. Early Monday, July 1, 2013, two of San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit’s largest unions went on strike after weekend talks with management failed to produce a new contract. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
When teachers in Chicago went on strike last year, their demands sounded very reasonable. After just nine days on strike, CTU fought for and won a contract that included hiring more than 600 additional teachers in art, music and physical education, making textbooks available on the first day of school and bringing in the percentage of teacher evaluations that are decided by standardized test scores down to the legal minimum of 30 percent.
Yet the media presented both CTU and union president Karen Lewis as shrill, unreasonable, greedy forces more interested in razing the earth than rationally negotiating. The spin that the strike was really about greedy teachers hellbent on hurting kids quickly infiltrated the media’s vernacular.
The same thing is happening now as workers for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) strike while negotiating for a new contract. This is BART’s first strike in sixteen years.
Workers are asking for a wage increase (they haven’t received one in five years) and improved safety measures (bullet-proof glass in station booths, better lighting in tunnels, etc.). The union is asking for a 23 percent raise over four years, and BART countered with an offer of an 8 percent raise over four years, but the union says this offer falls below cost of living increases.
A BART spokesperson called the safety issues a “smoke screen” even though BART police have reported more than 2,400 serious crimes at just five stations in the last three years—crimes serious enough to require reporting to the FBI.
The union is also upset about a proposal for workers to pay more into their healthcare benefits.
Dr. Steven Pitts, a union expert at the UC-Berkeley Labor Relations Center, says that rising healthcare and retirement costs have affected everyone in the Bay Area, but BART is unusual in that it had a revenue surplus this year. Since BART employees endured wage stagnation during the recession, they expect more now.
“The unions have the capacity that says we helped you out in the past, and now we need you to pay us back,” Pitts said.
Antonnette Bryant, President of ATU 1555, says it’s difficult to negotiate with people who “deliberately distort the truth.”
BART does not have a “deficit,” as the Board says. BART faces a massive budget surplus of more than $1.2 billion over the next 10 years. And we don’t make half what they say we make. I’ve worked for BART for 22 years. My salary is $63,000 a year. If I were to retire today, I would get a pension of $2,100 a month—and we don’t get Social Security, just our pensions.
BART workers haven’t had a raise in 4 years, since BART imposed a hiring freeze in 2009. We also face a mounting wave of violence on the job. BART police have reported more than 2,400 serious crimes at just five stations in the last three years—crimes serious enough to require reporting to the FBI. Yet BART refuses to even discuss the issue of safety for workers and riders in negotiations.