Transit Train Wreck Turned Aside: Winners and Losers in Tentative BART Settlement

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Guess who's still here?
If you rode BART to work this morning and came to the horrible realization that not only was your seat cold, but wet, too -- congratulations! You're still a winner. You can still go get a new pair of pants at Ross or Old Navy and get to work in less time than it would have taken to drive your car into the city and find parking.

Obviously commuters are the biggest winners in this averted strike. Like Joni Mitchell warbled, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone"; the only thing worse than bitching about BART is bitching about not having BART to bitch about. If the ATU Local No. 1555 ratifies this tentative accord on Tuesday, Aug 25, this four-month labor vs. management dramafest can finally leave the station. If the union fails to ratify, however, it'd arguably be a mistake akin to "Bowie over Jordan" or those poor Chernobyl technicians' fateful last query, "What does this button do?"

The happy-happy party line coming out of this tentative settlement will surely be that everyone's a winner. The holdout union got a contract its president describes as fair, BART management held its ground, local politicians got to stand behind the podium and offer platitudes, and riders get to risk sitting in horrible things without interruption. And yet there are winners and winners. So who are the winners and losers here? Let's assess:

BART management: BIG WINNERS. Guess what? Sometimes you get what you pay for. BART decided to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to Sam Singer's PR firm -- without waiting for the tiger to jump the fence, mind you -- and relentlessly dispatched its own spokesman, Linton Johnson, at every moment. BART's cash outlay resulted in a slick Web site and effective PR machine allowing management to quickly set the terms of this debate.

On the other hand, these weren't very difficult terms to set. Even considering the accusations of BART management malfeasance unions were all too happy to bring up -- and the unions' oft- repeated complaint that BART has never had its books audited by an independent authority -- does anyone think the public transit system is rolling in hidden veins of cash? More to the point, in this economy, it was a lot easier for management to explain why workers should be tightening their belts than workers to explain why they should be loosening their belts. Consider that done.

Finally, BART management's aggressive tactics appear to have paid off in the end. After the ATU spurned a four-year contract adopted by the SEIU and AFSCME unions, the BART board unilaterally imposed a harsher one-year deal. This was a crossing of the Rubicon for management -- "Politically, it's a very hard thing to impose on a union," said BART board member Bob Franklin. "That's like them striking. But we got the results we needed to get."

That one-year deal -- which will be tossed if the ATU ratifies the deal now on the table -- accomplished the cuts in 12 months now tentatively stretched over 48. Suddenly, the four-year deal turned down by the ATU was looking better. Remember, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."
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