City of Oakland workers and BART employees form in groups around Frank Ogawa Plaza during the strike earlier this month. Photo by Deborah Svoboda/KQED
City of Oakland workers and BART employees form in groups around Frank Ogawa Plaza during the strike earlier this month. Photo by Deborah Svoboda/KQED

A month after BART workers ended a four-day walkout, BART management and union representatives are back at the bargaining table, but so far there’s little indication they’re any closer to an agreement than they were at the beginning of July.

San Francisco Chronicle transportation reporter Michael Cabanatuan has been following the story and spoke with KQED’s Stephanie Martin on Tuesday about the ongoing dispute and what we can expect. Edited transcript …

Stephanie Martin: This is worrisome for many commuters because the deadline for a potential strike is Aug. 4. Should they start thinking about alternate transportation plans?

Michael Cabanatuan: I think it’s always wise to plan ahead especially when you’re a commuter who’s dependent on public transit, and there certainly is the possibility of a second BART strike. There really isn’t the capability of replacing BART service. It’s not like they have a secret fleet of mothballed buses and drivers who are on standby waiting in Alameda. They pretty much have buses they use for their daily service;  they can put out extra service but they can’t necessarily put out enough to handle 400,000 trips a day.

Martin: So a quick reminder of what this dispute is about: pay, health care, pensions and–BART workers also say–safety. How far apart are the two sides on these issues?

Cabanatuan: It’s really difficult to tell how far apart they are because when they return to the bargaining table they signed a 30-day contract extension and a mediation agreement, and both sides agreed they would not discuss the details of what’s being talked about in negotiations outside of the negotiating room. Martin: Just yesterday BART unveiled mockups of brand new rail cars, which the public can view all week at the MacArthur Station. Management says those cars won’t be possible if they capitulate to all the worker’s demands. It sounds like a big part of management strategy is public relations.

Cabanatuan: I think certainly some of it has to do with public relations; it is a public system after all. I think they want the riders to know that ‘this is where our money is going.’ It’s a publicity campaign on both sides, I think.

Martin: And what about the BART workers’ side?

Cabanatuan: The workers are saying, ‘look, we made sacrifices last time around.’ They’ve gone without raises for five years and they say that now that the system is back on its feet and doing better than ever in many terms, including ridership, they should share in the wealth and the success that they helped produce.

Martin: Now, many riders are going to be upset if BART workers go on strike again. What do the workers have to say to that? What do they stand to gain if they did that again?

Cabanatuan: I think what it is is leverage. They have the ability to shut down the transit system. That is a very powerful thing. They say they don’t want to do it. The thing to remember is they don’t get paid when they’re on strike, so I’m sure there are many of them who don’t want to do it. I think there are others who see the potential long-term benefit of it, but the longer a strike goes on, the harder it is on the people who are on strike, as well as the commuters.

Martin: Last time around public officials like Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee stayed largely on the sidelines. Governor Brown didn’t play a very prominent role either. Any sense there’s political momentum building to end this?

Cabanatuan: I think there is political pressure out there. I think a lot of people are sort of taking a wait and see approach, hoping that the negotiations that are going on are successful. I think the governor has been more involved than people think. A lot of people think that he sort of punted and said, ‘You know, I’m not going to order a cooling off period.’ But the governor basically had the Labor Department get involved and that’s what spurred the contract expansion and the current negations. They brought in two new mediators and struck an agreement on how they were going to bargain, and the schedule for bargaining.

Martin: And what about that schedule? Is Aug. 4 still the critical date?

Cabanatuan: Since they haven’t been talking publicly about what’s going on at the table they could theoretically come out and announce that they’ve reached a tentative settlement any day, but the indication I’m getting is that they’re not there yet.

  • Jon Krueger

    It’s simply not true that “They’ve gone without raises for five years”

    It’s true that they’ve gone without raises in their base pay for five years. But their benefits have gone up 35% over the last three years:

    • J

      John, I work for Bart and I promise u we have not had any increase in pay or benefits. Fare keeps increasing, but we haven’t seen a dime. Assaults and crime is up, and we haven’t seen a dime. Ridership is at an all time high and Bart BRAGS about surpluses consistently. If u ride Bart, u shud be upset too! Trains are filthy, crime is up, fares increase…management is mishandling the money and giving themselves bonuses. The middle class(us workers) are sick of it. I don’t know many people who would stay in a job 4 years with no pay increase.

      • JOEL

        I have quite a bit of friends, tower supervisors, train operators, and in safety department, that works for BART. I know how much they get paid and what they do. Trust me for the level of education and the actual work being done, you’ve got it made. Let’s not talk about the station agent that doesn’t do anything and play games on their cell phones. It would be okay if they have pleasant personalities when you ask for help, but they don’t. I have yet to approach a station agent that doesn’t act like the customers are a nuisance. Middle class workers??? You’re middle class not most of us because we don’t get paid as much as you. Five years and you’re already complaining! Try 8 years and we don’t even come close to making as much as you and we actually save lives. Sorry, if I didn’t have an inside track to BART workers then I wouldn’t be saying this. PLEASE STOP BEING GREEDY with your pay. How many can say they make between $30 to $35 an hour with the jobs that you do and that’s for train operators. Sorry, you don’t have my vote and I will BOYCOTT BART! Then when there’s limited revenue perhaps they can cut your salaries, but they don’t and they simply cut services. Live within your means and perhaps you won’t ask for too much.

        • rj357

          Scab mentality guarantees a race to the bottom. Not BART workers fault you don’t/can’t/won’t ORGANIZE and fight for a fair wage- these workers are willing to live on NO PAY during a strike. Their fight raises EVERYONE’S wage structure- so next time you’re benefitting from things like weekends off, paid holidays, employer paid healthcare, pension planning, an 8 hr work day/40 hr work week you remind yourself those “perks” were bought with BLOOD! Quit snivelling and being jealous and SUPPORT those with COURAGE enough to FIGHT BACK…or embrace Walmart’s feudal business model.

          • zzzzz

            your argument is a tired one. public workers shouldn’t have rights to collective bargaining. their salaries are paid by tax dollars and we all know politicians have no accountability. public unions and politicians are bankrupting municipalities. 60k+ with full benefits and pension for a GED equivalent for a job that monkey can do has no leverage. bart should just go bankrupt and start all over again.

          • George

            rj357, please don’t wrap the glory and cause of labor movement around yourself. You know your strike to very little to raise the wage and benefits to the vast majority of workers out there. In your mind, be honest, your wage is far far ahead in your mind than the wellbeing of other workers. Some $10/hr workers have to pay $15/day to Bart to SF from Antioch, with strike, they have a hell. Bart has become so expensive because of you.

          • Louis

            It is not a fair wage you are fighting about. What is a fair wage for a job requiring only GED? Yes, you can organize, but you have become a gang of people who take public as hostage. Why do we have to support you with higher and higher fares out of our pockets in fare prices and TAXES.

        • rider 2


      • ccdd

        oohh, boohoo! Soo sad, her’s a Kleenex. Bart employees are rude, lazy, unprofessional and overpaid. Go back to work you idiots. We can tell the difference when unions are advocating for workers’ rights, and when they’re being greedy.

  • Pursuit of Darkness

    C’mon, stop attacking public workers. BART has a huge surplus, let the workers share in it. The system is run by elected directors who don’t do squat. They need to go out and raise money for new cars! They’ve known for 40 years that they need new cars.

    • Alex

      Mr. Pursuit, what does union workers have to do with the surplus? The surplus is public money, due to economy recovery. You are alredy grossly overpaid. Bart is not your piggy bank. Bart has become so expensive becuase of high priced employees, and Bart justifies the fare only by comparing against driving alone. The biggest beneficiaries of Bart have been its workers, union or not. The surplus can be and should be used to mitigate future fare increase, fulfilling Bart obligations to extend services to Fremont, Livermore, etc, and replace 40 year old equipment.
      You can’t find a job requiring only GED to pay 72K wage, 12K overtime (by the way, you can make your own OT by calling in sick then show up for work), 55K worth of benefits.

  • Bubu

    OK…Its time to stop standing on the sidelines. If the public wants to put an end to this stand-off within BART and your Board Director is not able to do so. BOYCOTT BART! Again I say…BOYCOTT BART! This sends a strong message that you’re sick and tired of the politics within our transportation systems! If you can find another way to get around. BOYCOTT BART!

  • Don’t just boycott the BART now, don’t go to work at all during the strike! And when your boss(es) ask why you’re not at work, tell them a fat bird from Cleveland, Ohio (ME) told you to.

  • dennis

    Bart is convenient, but the experience is awful, as the trains are dirty and noisy, stations old and unsafe, many riders rude and yacking on cell phones. Bart should have on board each train a minder to report ahead for security if rider hogs or sleeps across seats, talks loudly, solicits money or behaves uncivilly. Bikes and their riders should be on designated cars These issues should be the basis of a strike, with the wage adjustments as the secondary thrust.

  • M

    This is really pointless. Going on strike won’t get anything done. BART will call the Workers bluff and let them go on strike w/o pay. BART should just go out and hire new workers. I’m sure there’s thousands of people who will do the job for cheaper..sure they might have the same experience but its a job that can be done with some training.

  • Steve

    Can and should Bart not pay into union workers’ retirement (to which union workers don’t pay a dime, not like social security where employees pay 6-7% of their pay), and medical insurance (which is heavily subsidized, as union workers pay only $92/month for whole family)? It is public money.

    Union workers are well paid (135K/year, pay, OT, benefits), they can well sustain the days they don’t get paid, while causing excruciating pains to the public. It is not fair the public still pays their medical insureance and retirement while getting hurt.

  • Rider

    Just got the Contra Costa Time today. Bart union workers top the entire state in transporation occupation, with a large distance to the second highest. The highest paid janitor in Bart gorssed 82K in 2012, higherst paid tran operator (actually computer conrolled) grosse 155K in 2012. And they want 5% annual increase. We the riders and public are paying for these. Otherwise, they go on strike.

  • Meg

    They want more money? Why don’t you invest the surplus in maintenance and cleaning?
    If you are maintain the trains as often as you clean them… its a scary thought for a train that can drive that fast. After you improved it and made it safe and safe for people’s health you may have the rest, and I’m on your side. But I don’t only pay for getting from a to be somehow. But safe and healthy. I’m sorry to say that…. Bart is the dirtiest public transportation I ever used, and I lived in several countries and cities, including Berlin, NY and Paris.

  • Ree

    Bart workers = Bart Hogs…oink oink
    This is ridiculous.
    I’d like to work for Bart .
    I’ve had to take a 10% pay cut, increase in medical benefits and they just want more and more. This is how the middle class really is. Stop pretending your the middles class. And the attitude they have too….are you kidding me. Most of them would have been fired long ago. Stop crying.

  • rita

    I hope everything works far as the employees getting what they deserve and it’s sad that they won’t just give them a raise instead of them going on strike cause they have a family also and by them giving the employees no other choice they just take food out of there family mouth hopefully they have a heart for the families and the commuters to put a end to this

    • ccdd

      Except tjat Bart employees are overpaid, rude, lazy and unprofessional. Go back to work, you idiots.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor