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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Creating a Pro-active Labor Relations Environment - Part Fourteen in a Series: Identifying Sources of Employee Frustration and/or Anger

When there is not a visible ongoing commitment by top management to a pro-active work environment or when there is a partial breakdown of the key elements necessary for such an environment to thrive, employees often become frustrated and/or angry with management.  In other words, individual employees’ needs and/or their employment needs are neither being met nor acknowledged by management.  Sources for such frustration and/or anger include:

  • Insecurity about the job.
  • Witnessing or receiving unfair of unequal treatment, particularly in the handling of discipline and performance appraisals.
  • Wages and benefits below area or industry standards; wages not keeping up with the cost of living; and/or merit increases not being given on a timely or equitable basis.
  • Management ignoring grievances and/or handling complaints poorly.
  • Management disregarding experience or seniority.
  • Absence of clearly defined duties and responsibilities.
  • Uncertainty due to lack of written policies and procedures.
  • Lack of individual recognition or appreciation.
  • Lack of meaningful communication with supervisors and managers.
  • No sense of belonging or identity with the company.
  • Management indifferences toward employees.

Once the sources of employee frustration and/or anger are identified, a pro-active strategy to respond is critical to achieve the sought after positive work environment.  As mentioned in Part Thirteen of this series, involvement systems through employee focus groups and/or continuous improvement teams is often a successful starting point in rebuilding trust through solving the sources of discontent.  These involvement processes allow employees to be stakeholders in reaching solutions to their problems.  

In addition to the ideas discussed above, creating a pro-active work environment should also include the components to be discussed in upcoming blogs as part of a comprehensive strategy.  

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It's time for a change: The case against Obama


While the nation debates the debates – and in particular, the propriety and partisanship of the moderators – the central issues of this campaign are obvious and irrefutable. By virtually every benchmark, it’s clear our beloved country is in trouble, and of the two proposed paths forward, only one offers authentic hope for responsible change.

I see no need to re-litigate the 2008 election. Enough Americans voted for Barack Obama to make him president, and whether their support was based on race, ignorance, or ideology, the fact is that he has had four years to implement his policies and keep his promises. His track record has been abysmal, and I believe another term in the White House would cause irreversible damage to the solvency and security of the United States.

Pick any indicator, and things have gotten worse since 2008.

o    The president may celebrate the recently-reported dip in unemployment, but the true indicator – one that includes those who are under-employed, working part-time, or have given up entirely – remains at over 14.5%.
o    Ever-ballooning debit and deficits – and the unrestricted printing of money – are now at a point that becoming Greece is less hyperbole and more a real possibility. There’s a reason our credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history, and it could happen again.
o    The administration claims inflation remains low, but for those struggling in the middle class or on fixed incomes, the real cost of living has skyrocketed. Gas at the pump has doubled, heating oil continues to climb, food prices have jumped, and healthcare costs are escalating even as the restrictions on patient choice and reimbursement embedded in Obamacare are starting to be implemented.
o    Our foreign policy is in dangerous disarray. “Leading from behind” has been interpreted by friends and enemies alike as weakness, and the world is demonstrably less safe. And when the chickens do come home to roost, as with the coordinated attack that killed our ambassador on American soil, the Obama administration lies and attempts to cover up in order to maintain the fiction that terrorism is “back on its heels. “

The list goes on. The bailouts, the failed stimulus, the abuse of executive orders, the ignominy of “Fast and Furious,” a Justice Department that will not live up to its name.

But there is hope, and in my next blog, I will outline the case for Mitt Romney – or as I like to call it, the case for America’s Comeback.

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