Thoughts on the San Francisco BART Strike

The Bay Area Rapid Transit  (BART) Agency provides service daily to over 400,000 commuters who find this service a necessity to get to and from work.  The employees working for BART are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1021.  Local 1021 and management have been meeting and negotiating for the past several months for a new contract.  Negotiations first broke down in July, 2013 and the employees went on strike.  The strike lasted approximately 10 days.  The parties then resumed negotiations, but were unable to reach an agreement.  While representatives for the parties acknowledged that they were getting closer on economics, the real differences involve work rules and past practices.  Management insists on having the usual management rights authority granted to employers in most contracts. Normally, this authority allows companies to implement reasonable rules which are then subject to arbitration if the union grieves, among other things, the reasonability for the rule.  The policy under the expired contract was that rules and/or past practices could only be altered by mutual agreement between management and the union.  In a unionized environment, obtaining such agreements is often unrealistic and difficult.  As an example, management wants the authority to modify schedules when necessary whether or not over a holiday or a citywide event.  The union is adamant that it will not accept a contract which gives to management such unilateral rule making authority.  This is the type of issue that usually breeds contentious and lengthy strikes.

While BART is certainly harmed by the strike, the real harm flows to commuters and to the citizenry in general over the greater San Francisco area.  In my view, the strike at BART is simply a throwback to the old days when unions sought more and more because of its greed and its desire to obtain more power.  Employees who chose to work at BART should understand that they have a public duty to aid the citizens in their area of work.  Most public employees need to balance their desires with the greater good of the areas residents.  Many public employees and public employee unions have learned the hard way that their outlandish desires in areas of money, pensions, healthcare and work rules literally forced many public employers into considering bankruptcy.  Detroit is just a recent example of a public entity that was forced to enter bankruptcy since its overall cost of doing business far exceeded its income.  A large part of these costs in Detroit are related to public employees.  Its now time for all of us to stand up for limiting the type of abuse brought to the city of San Francisco by its public employees and public employee unions.  If we don't stand up now for the rights and needs of the citizens, then more public employers will go the route of Detroit.


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