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BART strike calls for labor contract reform

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POSTED November 19, 2013 11:00 p.m.

Knowing that the strikes by unionized BART employees this year created such significant hardships for hundreds of thousands of California commuters, it’s time that something be done to put an end to transit strikes that disrupt public transportation. Each time the battle ensues between the BART employees’ union and BART management, commuters who rely on BART trains are forced to navigate lengthy alternative transportation routes and the economy loses $70 million a day. This creates an exceptional hardship for commuters who live in the Central Valley - our neighbors, friends, and family members who rely on BART to get to work every day.

According to the Altamont Pass Commuter Survey (October, 2000), 75 percent of the workforce commuting from the Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area originate from a 30-minute area around Manteca. You can bet that BART and other public transit is the transportation of choice for many of these commuters. The BART strikes are a clear example of why the Legislature needs to pass legislation to prevent future transit strikes.

BART union workers make an average of $76,500 annually. Though the terms of the deal ultimately struck between the union and management were not made public, details provided to the San Jose Mercury News show that BART workers will receive a 15% pay increase. The pay increase would push the average to $88,300 by 2017.

After BART management initially offered a 12% increase, unions weren’t satisfied. They literally shut down commerce for a vast region of the Bay Area to increase their pay an additional 3%, all while the rest of the private and public sector are lucky to receive pay raises in the 2 – 3% range.  The union workers cost the economy $70 million a day to raise their own pay above an already generous pay increase. And all of this was allowed to happen while there was a ‘no strike’ clause in the union contract. This has to change.

Cumulatively, these pay raises will amount to an overall 29% pay increase over the last four years. How many employees at other organizations can boast that they’ve increased their pay with the same company almost 30% in less than five years? I guarantee not many. While it’s reported that management received several concessions in the deal like limiting overtime pay, and that employees will now have to contribute to their pensions, the rest of the private sector is scoffing that policies like those weren’t already in place.

Public transit unions shouldn’t be allowed to hold commuters hostage when they have an internal dispute. There should be enforceable policies in place that prohibit public strikes when the greater economy is at stake. This idea is not revolutionary. The Railway Labor Act, which has been in place since 1935, does exactly that, and it is under this umbrella that many of the nation’s largest shipping companies like FedEx are governed.  It’s time that state lawmakers use their power to ensure public transit strikes that cripple the economy and put the public at risk are a thing of the past. I am committed to working with my colleagues on legislation that will prevent future strikes when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Though this particular struggle seems to be over, and memories of the incredible disruptions it caused are quickly subsiding, we can’t get comfortable or forget that this can easily happen again tomorrow. Now is the time to take measures to protect the public that public employees are paid to serve. 

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