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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

Safety of BART Employees and Riders At Center of the Current Dispute

by John Logan, San Francisco State University

For several weeks, BART management has run a sophisticated media campaign telling the public that the lack of real progress in negotiations is solely the fault of the unions' unreasonable and uncompromising economic demands.

When it comes to wages and benefits, however, management has presented a highly misleading picture: it has failed to mention the enormous concessions that BART workers accepted in 2009 at the depth of the economic recession. BART President Thomas Blalock stated that he was "extremely pleased" with that cost-cutting agreement. BART employees were much less pleased, of course, but they recognized the need for significant sacrifice in the dismal economy.

Under the guidance of their highly paid, out-of-state chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, BART management is misrepresenting key economic and safety issues. Hock has an outstanding reputation for driving down employees' wages and benefits, but a dismal one for resolving disputes without disruptive strikes. By characterizing its bargaining position as fair and generous, BART management has failed to explain that, under its most recent written offer, most BART employees would barely stay in place, while many on the lowest incomes would likely fall even further behind. Nor has management explained how top management, not frontline workers, enjoy some of the system's most expensive and wasteful job perks.

BART management has also consistently misrepresented several key safety issues that are at the heart of the dispute.  BART management has, for the most part, failed to resolve the unions' concerns on worker and rider safety.  Indeed, State Controller John Chiang, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones wrote to management recommending that they "treat frontline employees-many of whom have raised numerous valid concerns about worker and rider safety-as partners in creating a safer system." Thus far, BART management has failed to heed their wise advice.

The figures on safety for BART employees speak for themselves. Since 2009, BART management has cut the system's operations staff by 8 percent. During the same 4-year period injuries that BART reported to Cal-OSHA have increased by a whopping 43 percent. Hundreds of BART workers are now injured on the job every year. And as a result of BART's dysfunctional and inefficient workers' comp system, many injured workers are involuntarily forced out of their jobs for weeks or even months at a time.

BART workers also face the threat of physical violence on a regular basis.
30 BART station agents were assaulted at work in 2009, while the same number were assaulted during the first four months of 2013. Recent incidents have involved an agent being attacked with a knife, an agent being punched in the face, an agent being thrown down stairs, and an agent being attacked by a group of five teenagers. As a result, several BART station agents have ended up in hospital with serious injuries. Other BART agents have had to deal with fatal shootings or horrific suicides in or around their stations. Yet BART management has thus far refused to do what is necessary to ensure worker and rider safety throughout the system.

BART management needs to spend more time engaging in real discussions at the bargaining table and less time trying to win the battle of public opinion through its sophisticated media campaign. Negotiating through the media may be easier than doing it face-to-face, but it won't resolve this dispute.

And neither will management's misrepresentation of the key economic and safety issues at the heart of the negotiations.

Posted on 08/02/2013Permalink

More posts by John Logan

Reader Discussion

Why isn’t there an investigation of BART management, how do they get to use the peoples monies to fatten up their pay while denying workers fair compensation and even basic safety, its time the state of California investigate the overpayment of BART management.

at 4:32 pm on Fri, Aug 2, 2013Posted by kered alexander

It would help the public to better undertand the seriousness of the safety issue if the author would reveal how many times BART has been cited for a safety violation by Cal-OHSA or any other reporting authority.

at 6:30 pm on Fri, Aug 2, 2013Posted by Ken Huston

As a retired member of ILWU Local 52 Seattle the actions of management are despicable. I lived in the city from 1985 to 1992. My daughter graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School.

I rode the buses, trolleys and Bart on a regular basis. I hope the citizens of San Francisco remember and appreciate how professional the drivers were and are today.

at 6:03 am on Sun, Aug 4, 2013Posted by Randy Vekich

One of the union demands is that BART reopen the station lavatories that it has closed. In a system where a train ride can take an hour and a half, and a total one-way trip can take several hours, denying sanitation facilities to passengers is simply cruel. BART management turns a deaf ear to passenger pleas for relief. Only the unions are fighting for this basic human right for the passengers. As long as the unions insist on this demand, they’ll have my support, no matter how long the strike might have to last.

at 8:18 am on Sun, Aug 4, 2013Posted by Jonathan Pool

In my opinion, safety the one issue that we can support the unions on, and the one issue that could probably be negotiated away.  The continuous emphasis on this issue by the unions and the ignoring of the real issues: contibutions to health care and pensions, is treating us as though we are stupid.
I am a typical working stiff who is going to suffer genuine hardship on Monday trying to get to my job, and I feel that the union is selling me down the river.
Unions cannot argue with this facts of their current compensation which is very generous.

at 9:32 am on Sun, Aug 4, 2013Posted by Margaret Keelan

I hope the commission investigates fully. I sur the union has been straight up. But if u haven’t. That will not be good I feel as if the company has been playing this game hoping for a strike that in my opinion you had every right to conduct, I also feel Bart beat you up in the media pretty bad. The publics knee jerk reaction is always quick fast and usually doesn’t make sense. But I. That not good luck

at 5:00 am on Mon, Aug 5, 2013Posted by Ian

Everybody hates BART.  They just don’t think the situation through.  What they are actually angry about is that BART is so extremely mismanaged.  This is something the employees on the front lines are not responsible for and are powerless to do something about. These employees are at risk of abuse and assults because of their exposure to an angry public.  Management, on the otherhand, raises fairs, wasts capital, and formulates bad policy.  They do this behind closed doors and sorround themselves with security guards.  The reason for the high security in the borad room is that management knows that they are the ones who are truley deserving of the abuse and assults the working staff must suffer.

at 1:18 pm on Mon, Aug 5, 2013Posted by Michael Reynolds

I agree with Union and employees that they should have better safety for employees and re-open restrooms for the public and passengers

at 11:14 am on Mon, Aug 12, 2013Posted by D E Tarver

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