October 21, 2013

Our View: Bay Area leaders need to support ban on transit strikes

Editor’s note: As of when this editorial was written, the BART strike had not ended.

If the five-day-old BART strike ends quickly, instead of dragging on for days or even weeks, it won’t be because Bay Area lawmakers have shown any level of courage.

For a story published Saturday, the San Francisco Chronicle surveyed Bay Area legislators – all of them Democrats – on whether they would support a ban on transit strikes. Not a single one said yes. Five were opposed; four were undecided and 12 dodged the question or responded late.

It should be noted that a few Democrats have supported a ban on transit strikes, a prohibition that is common in Democratic urban strongholds such as New York and Chicago.

But most Democrats have stayed silent, fearful of incurring the wrath of their public employee union allies. And because of their silence, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 felt emboldened to walk away from the bargaining table.

There were signs Monday that talks had resumed, with a possible resumption of transit service by Wednesday. If not, there will be more angry commuters and even job losses. The longer this strikes drags out:

• The more the public is learning about the generous pay and benefits that BART employees already enjoy. As the San Jose Mercury News reported earlier this year, the top-paid BART train operator grossed $155,308 last year, nearly $50,000 more than the top-paid train operator for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. BART’s top-paid janitor grossed $82,752. Janitors have tough jobs and do important work. But an $82,000-a-year janitor? Really?
• The more the public and BART employees are endangered. The deaths of two BART workers inspecting tracks Saturday might have been avoided in the absence of a strike, with the transit district up to full staffing.

Republicans in the Legislature have introduced legislation to compel Local 1021 to comply with a no-strike clause in its previous contract. But union officials say the clause no longer applies, even though BART management honored provisions in the previous contract while talks were continuing. So far, Gov. Jerry Brown has refused to call a special session so the GOP legislation can be considered.

His spokesman, Evan Westrup, says the governor prefers binding arbitration between BART management and the union, and that a special session wouldn’t result in the kind of quick action the Bay Area needs. If continued talks don’t result in a firm deal, however, the governor will have to act. Our guess is that SEIU Local 1021 would quickly get this contract resolved, under pressure from other transit unions, if the governor were to even float the idea of a special session.

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