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Editorial: Lawmakers must exert pressure to end BART strike

If the five-day-old BART strike ends quickly, instead of dragging on for days or even weeks, it won’t be because Bay Area lawmakers have shown themselves to be profiles in courage.

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.

Twelve 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, Susan Talamantes Eggman, 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.

There were signs Monday that talks had resumed between labor and management, with a possible resumption of transit service by Wednesday.

If a deal comes together, commuters will be relieved. 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 are losing jobs, just so union leaders can extract more concessions and money from BART and its customers.

The longer this strike drags out:

• The more the public is learning 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 more the public and BART employees are endangered. 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.

So far, Gov. Jerry Brown has refused to call a special session so the GOP legislation can be considered.

His spokesman, Evan Westrup, says the governor prefers binding arbitration between BART management and the union, and that a special session wouldn’t result in the kind of quick action the Bay Area needs.

Perhaps he is right, but if continued talks don’t result in a deal, and another strike is possible, the governor will have to act.

Our guess is that SEIU Local 1021 would quickly get this contract resolved, under pressure from other transit unions, if the governor were to even float the idea of a special session.