Every day, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers safely transport nearly half a million commuters across the Bay Area. But not many BART riders realize these workers face exceptionally hazardous conditions. In fact, employee injuries have increased by 43% since 2009, which is precisely why BART workers and their allies have been fighting for safer conditions for themselves and the patrons they serve.
But the BART Board of Directors and their highly paid, out-of-state negotiator, Thomas Hock, are refusing to even discuss the workers’ safety requests, which include improved lighting and clean, accessible restrooms. Instead, BART management is committed to depicting the workers as “greedy” – even though these same workers took substantial wage and benefits cuts just a few years ago, when the economy was on the downswing.
Now, the economy is turning around, and BART profits are up. WAY up. So is ridership. And the hard-working men and women who keep BART running are simply asking for a fair and just contract with the wages, benefits and workplace safety protections they need and deserve. But BART management and negotiators are still refusing to bargain in good faith, even after the week-long strike the workers launched in the beginning of July.
Late Sunday night, just two hours before the BART workers were set to go on strike for the second time this summer, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a seven-day Board of Inquiry, which means no strike action for at least seven days as an investigative team looks into the negotiations and how they have (or haven’t) been proceeding. It’s possible that could turn into a 60-day “cooling off” period, but that has yet to be determined.
Even though there’s no strike this week, that didn’t stop more than 100 off-duty transit workers, community supporters and BART riders from making thier voices heard at a noon rally yesterday outside the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland.
San Francisco Labor Council’s Tim Paulson told the BART workers at the rally:
Our labor councils — and ALL of organized labor, community and faith groups — will continue to support you until you get the contract you deserve. We don’t need ‘cooling off,’ we don’t need investigations, we need BART to do the right thing and get this job done and treat you just as well as you treat the general public!
SEIU BART Chapter President John Arantes explained just how much the BART workers have already given up:
In 2009, the District came to us and asked us, the workers, to make $100 million dollars in sacrifices. And we all did it, because we care about the Bay Area. We’re a hard-working family, and we all expected that in 2013, if things got better, the District would be there for us, as a family, like we were there for them in 2009. Instead, what they’ve done is put proposals forward that would put working families in the minus, so it’ll be worse this time — with a $125 million [BART budget] surplus — than it was 2009, when supposedly there was no money.
Top representatives from the offices of Bay Area Assemblymembers Bill Quirk, Nancy Skinner & Rob Bonta also addressed the crowd at the rally, where they detailed the audit of BART that their lawmakers have been working on for months, and their ongoing efforts to get the true facts and figures BART has been hiding. Spokespeople from Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski’s office and State Senator Ellen Corbett’s office also spoke out in support of the workers and their fight for justice.
Antonette Bryant, President of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) local 1555, emphasized that this struggle reaches far beyond just the BART workers and their unions.
This isn’t about ATU. It isn’t about SEIU, and it isn’t about AFSCME. It’s about the Bay Area. Working families deserve a living wage. That’s what we’re fighting for. So if people ask you about that, you can tell them, ‘we’re fighting for the 99%.’ And everyone here – whether you’re union or non-union – we’re fighting to maintain or standard of living. It’s imperative that everyone understands that. We make BART work!
BART train controller and AFSCME 3993 member Saul Camacho:
We are here to show solidarity with our ATU and SEIU brothers and sisters to the end! We’re fighting for what’s fair. If we stick together to the end, we’re gonna make it happen. Contract now!