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BART Strike, Day 2: Waging the War Over Public Perception

The BART strike was certainly preventable, but its unsurprising nature was equally certain. Following a long line of government employees facing pay cuts and furloughs, BART workers have the strongest weapon: a transit strike that makes the public sit up and notice. And unfortunately, that has happened:

The final trains of the Sunday shift will finish up their runs. But there will be no service Monday, with the transit system's workers and management agreeing only on the fact that the two sides remain far apart in contract negotiations. Instead of reporting to work, BART union employees will carry picket signs and distribute leaflets at most stations. (SF Chronicle)

KQED Forum had an interesting program on the strike yesterday morning, and the number of vociferous anti-union comments were somewhat surprisng. Now, you have to discount for the fact that conservatives always dominate this kind of program, but the angst is real.

For years, workers have been getting the raw deal. But this is universal, as both public and private sector workers have seen wages stagnate while productivity is driven to higher and higher levels. However, for whatever reason, labor gets the negative press at every negotiation. The saying goes that workers should be happy to just have a job at all.

BART workers are asking for increased safety measures, but no doubt the media will focus mostly on the 23 percent wage increase that the unions are asking for — what would be their first raise in over five years. Cost of living keeps going up, but salaries remain stagnant. Workers have caved to management's cries of going broke before, from TransForm:

For most of its 40 year history, BART has acted like a teenager, neglecting basic upkeep like going to the dentist in order to buy sparkly new toys. Now, BART’s teeth are falling out and the bills are coming due. BART faces an incredible backlog of maintenance and repair on its current system, but must continue repaying huge loans used to finance boondoggles like the Oakland Airport Connector.

In fact, during the last employee contract negotiations four years ago, BART was facing a fiscal crisis and unions agreed to concessions to help keep the agency in the black.

However, while the stock market rises and the wealthy grab an ever increasing level of income, how much longer can we continue to think this way? A rising tide, and a more equitable distribution of income is sure to yield better results for economy. But, the rich have the larger megaphones, and so labor frequently gets drowned out.

There will be recriminations in both directions with this strike. And while there may be some uncomfortable moments, we cannot let the media create a false equivalence. We need to stand with BART workers, for worker safety and for living wages.  

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