Editorial: Will legislators learn anything from BART strike?

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 - 12:35 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 - 4:13 pm

Now that this second, four-day-old BART strike appears to be over, lawmakers of both parties should ponder how they can prevent this disaster from being repeated again.

Four days of a transit strike is not long, but it still caused huge disruption of Northern California's economy, at a time when it appeared our state was going to prove itself functional in comparison to what was going on in Washington DC. And it was hardly a moment of courage for Bay Area lawmakers and Democrats in general statewide.

In a story published Saturday, the San Francisco Chronicle surveyed Bay Area legislators – all of them Democrats – on whether they would support a ban on transit strikes. Not a single one said yes.

Five – Tom Ammiano, Paul Fong, Jim Frazier, Kevin Mullin and Bob Wieckowski – said they were opposed.

Four – Rich Gordon, Jerry Hill, Mark Leno and Lois Wolk – said they were undecided.

Eleven dodged the question altogether, or didn’t respond in time. Those 12 were Rob Bonta, Susan Bonilla, Joan Buchanan, Ellen Corbett, Mark DeSaulnier, Loni Hancock, Mark Levine, Bill Quirk, Nancy Skinner, Phil Ting and Leland Yee.

To be fair, it should be noted that DeSaulnier has been contemplating legislation that would ban strikes by transit workers. Some Democrats – most notably Steve Glazer, a longtime adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown and a candidate for the state Assembly – have been openly crusading for a ban on transit strikes. Such prohibitions are commonplace in Democratic urban strongholds such as New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

But most Democrats have stayed silent, fearful of incurring the wrath of their public employee union allies. And because of their silence, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 felt emboldened to walk away from the bargaining table.

Now that there are signs that this second strike may be over, it is likely elected leaders will drop any legislation to prevent a repeat performance by Local 1021 or another transit union. That would be a missed opportunity.

The public is fed up with these shenanigans. As one commuter, Anthony Carral, told the Chronicle on Monday morning, “They left us in limbo all week. Some people are losing jobs over this.”

That’s right. People lost jobs, just so union leaders could extract more concessions and money from BART and its customers.

There are some upsides to this strike:

The public has learned about the generous pay and benefits that BART employees already enjoy. As the San Jose Mercury News reported earlier this year, the top-paid BART train operator grossed $155,308 last year, nearly $50,000 more than the top-paid train operator for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. BART’s top-paid janitor grossed $82,752. We agree, janitors have tough jobs and do important work. But an $82,000-a-year janitor? Really?

The public and BART employees have learned how lives can be endangered by a strike. Although an investigation has just been launched, the deaths of two BART workers inspecting tracks Saturday might have been avoided in the absence of a strike, with the transit district up to full staffing.

Republicans in the state Legislature have introduced legislation to compel Local 1021 to comply with a no-strike clause in its previous contract. But union officials say the clause no longer applies, even though BART management honored provisions in the previous contract while talks were continuing.

We need something stronger. Lawmakers should consider a statewide ban on transit strikes. SEIU Local 1021 overplayed its hand on this one. Legislation is needed to make sure another transit union is never again so reckless.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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