Phil Matier: The Politics Of The BART Strike
SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — The walkout by BART’s employees is now in full effect and Gov. Brown has been reluctant to call for a 60-day cooling-off period because that could likely have a bigger effect as the commute, at that time, will be flooded with people returning to school. But the dynamic between the transit agency and its union employees is just one example of the current state of public employee unions and management.
Now we are going to see large BART employee rallies and even bigger traffic back-ups while both sides continue to square off. Some people are surprised about the timing of the walkout because the 4th of July weekend is coming up—many people are only going to work for half the week or go on holiday anyway. So the strike could last a week but the major impact would be the first couple of days.
The bottom line, however, if you listen to both sides, is that this is not just about BART—it’s about all the municipal unions. These public employees feel like they have been furloughed and they have been dealt spending cuts repeatedly over the years. With the economy on the mend, the money is coming back and the boards of directors are finding other ways to spend it because they say there are other needs. Union leaders, I don’t think, can sell the membership a package that continues to what appears to be a net loss—whether it’s the City of Oakland, BART, or any public service.
So the question is: Is there the will within the body politic to give these public employees what they are asking for?
And the answer to that, quite simply, is no—because there is a point when what they are asking for can’t be afforded, but you can you give them something in between. And unlike other strike situations—for instance if we walked out at a radio station or the newspaper, replacement workers would be brought in—there is a complete shutdown.
So far, AC Transit hasn’t gone on strike and that takes some pressure off, but BART can’t afford it and there comes the question of timing when you reach a compromise that both workers and management will go for. Right now, at first blush, people have to scream and vent it out.
Again, this goes across the board—just like the police contract in San Francisco that was extended. There is just a mood out there with public employees that “we have been furloughed, we have been cut and you can’t sell us another net negative.”
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