BART Strike: Politicians Ducked This One

Categories: BART, Labor
Subway party in toronto.jpg
BART returns ... and there was much rejoicing
Once again, Bay Area commuters have learned that the only thing worse than bitching about BART is bitching about not having BART to bitch about. 

Following last night's announcement that the rail service and its striking employees will extend workers' expired contract 30 more days while continuing negotiations, trains are scheduled to hit the tracks at 3 p.m. today. And there shall be much rejoicing. And then more grumbling. 

Whatever happens, it figures to commence without the degree of political grandstanding attached to prior BART strikes and near-strikes. In 2009, local elected officials publicly hondled both sides and, following through on Woody Allen's dictum about 80 percent of life being just showing, showed up. Politicos were even more involved in 2001, publicly cajoling the system for a settlement and -- BART officials say -- pledging to backfill the money (which didn't happen). And, of course, in 1997 Willie Brown -- NOW A CHRONICLE COLUMNIST -- saved us all. 

That's not happening now. Politicians have been tepid at best in getting involved in the current BART labor morass -- even as it boiled over, unlike past morasses. And there's a reason for that.

Now, that's not to say that some labor-friendly politicians didn't get involved. They did. In doing so, however, they really did do the least they could do.

As noted on Uptown Almanac, the press statements released by Sen. Leland Yee and Supervisor David Campos were virtually identical in their phrasings to the point of being ostensibly cut-and-pasted from a template. 

Both, oddly, capitalized the "M" in "Management." 

BART officials we spoke with said that, yes, they did get letters and phone calls from elected officials urging a settlement, per the past. But, to a greater extent than in prior years, these were "obligatory" "check-the-box" calls. And that's because state and local elected officials urging BART to meet union demands in 2013 have been forced to deal with pension and health care struggles of their own that their 2009, 2005, 2001, etc. iterations did not. An elected official at either the state or local level leaning on BART to acquiesce to its workers' demands on benefits is now in the position of having to explain why she would be unwilling to provide such benefits to the workers in her own agency. 

BART seat.jpg
Take a load off, Jack!
In San Francisco, workers pay at least 7.5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions. BART employees do not contribute to theirs (but have offered to pony up 0.5 percent). 

Pensions, to put it mildly, are tricky. The state's pension plan currently assumes a 7.5 percent return on its investment -- meaning you've got to make that much to break even. That assumed return is likely to be lowered in the near future, which will necessitate greater employer contributions. Looming actuarial tweaks accounting for retirees' longer lifespans will also require more up-front contributions -- all of which, in the present, is coming from BART and not its workforce. 

In the past four years, pension and healthcare matters have oozed out from beneath the rugs our elected officials long swept them under. The general public may not care to wander into hardcore financial data, but no one can pretend this stuff isn't important anymore. 

So, the 30-day extension is good news indeed. Without an ongoing, rancor-inducing, money-draining strike, perhaps both sides can craft creative and nuanced solutions to stem their gaps. Those are the sorts of things you can't do in the midst of a sloganeering campaign and reports of commuters' arms and legs hanging out of overstuffed buses. 

Unions' claims that BART is operating on a surplus would require ignoring the system's longterm capital needs. On the other hand, with fewer employees than in the past, BART is moving more people. BART is doing more with less, and its workforce deserves to be compensated for that. The trick, over these next 30 days, will be finding out what everyone can live with -- now and in the future. 

This task probably won't be accomplished with input from glad-handing political outsiders. Constituents don't appreciate it when government officials tell them to do as they say, not as they do. 

Neither do fellow government officials. 

My Voice Nation Help

More info on this please: "Unions' claims that BART is operating on a surplus would require ignoring the system's longterm capital needs." Details! Thanks!


Once the 30 days has past, then what? Another strike????

Tammy Lively
Tammy Lively

what about Governor Moonbeam?? He coulda called for a 30 day cooling off period, altho it may have just been putting off the inevitable, or they coulda worked it out & not crippled they Bay area! #shameonBART

Dallas DeBurger
Dallas DeBurger

I found it awfully strange that none of our elected representatives uttered a word about the strike. SF Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland Mayor, etc. Just who do these people work for??

Tammy Lively
Tammy Lively

they got 30 days to get their shit together


@soren9 BART has both an operating budget and a capital budget. While it's doing rather well on the former, the latter has a projected shortfall in the billions in the coming decade. 

Granted, management could use this as an excuse to never cough up a cent. But labor is also playing games by saying that BART runs at a surplus. Maintaining the system, replacing Nixon-era trains, and, yes, building ill-conceived extensions costs money. 




@Dallas DeBurger They don't ever ride BART (or Muni for that matter).  Granted neither do I.  I think that BART authorities should have hired replacement workers and told the union to take a hike.  All this reprieve does is buy time and not much of it at that.

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