Commuters and the BART strike, the headline of the day. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)
Commuters and the BART strike, the headline of the day. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

Here’s what I glean from online comments about our second BART strike in four months: Most feel BART’s workers are both overpaid and personally undeserving of the salaries they make. Many express frustration about their apparent lack of ability to do anything to stop the walkout. And some have some ideas for how to change things so that BART can’t strike again. (One representative BART comment thread is here:.)

More on the commenters’ ideas in a minute.

First, let’s acknowledge there is a murmur of dissent among the anti-strike comments — a handful of commenters pleading the case of the BART workers and defending unions for helping some attain a living wage. (See the end of the post for a couple examples.)

But the volume is a lot louder from the other side. Some commenters state a rational proposition based on reporting that’s out there about BART worker salaries — comments along the lines of “I’ve always sympathized with unions, but what they get and what they’re asking for is way out of line with labor market realities.” But though I haven’t gone through and made a comment matrix of anti-BART strike commenters to separate all the emotional and ideological strands, I think it’s fair to say the frustration that most of them express goes well beyond logical market arguments. Some commenters accuse workers of being greedy, of being lazy, of not being grateful for having jobs in in hard economic times. For example:

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Some comments focus on the modest educational requirements for positions like train operator and station agent:

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So now, let’s look at suggested remedies from the audience. Here’s a list based on my estimate of how frequently the idea has been suggested.

1. Fire and/or lock out all the workers and replace them. We’ve already heard from this camp above, but here’s another comment for good measure:

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2. Pass laws to ban strikes by workers at BART and other transit agencies. This is an idea that’s clearly gaining popularity with both Republicans in the state Legislature and an East Bay Assembly candidate pushing for a change in state law:

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3. Automate BART trains so they don’t need unionized drivers anymore. Commenters like to point out that the Bay Area is the center of universal technological innovation (except for all those bullet trains and cool transit systems in Japan, France, Germany, China and Britain). This idea isn’t so far out. Vancouver, B.C., already has such a system. And as a recent article in TechCrunch pointed out, Paris has installed a driverless system on one of its Metro lines and London’s studying the idea for its underground. Here’s a comment that mixes a couple of our themes:

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4. Form a riders’ union to “strike back” against BART workers’ union. Again, this isn’t a wacky idea. For instance, riders’ groups have formed in San Francisco, Seattle and other cities. (What’s unknown to me, frankly, is how effective they are in influencing transportation policy and whether they have the clout to effectively participate in contract battles.)

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Is there a counter-trend? Pro-union people coming to the defense of the union’s and the idea of collective bargaining? There is, but compared to the volume typically employed by the anti-strikers, they’re speaking in a whisper:

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  • Ordinary citizen

    Bart is such a sad story…
    Just look at other country like Hong Kong’s MTR or Taiwan’s subway system, we should be ashame of where we are…
    These foreign countries’ trains are running so much more efficient.
    They have 3 times more passengers and their trains are so clean!
    New substations and routes are being built left and right and finished in a year’s time!
    It’s such a joke when Bart employees say they pride themselves of doing such a good job when so many of them are scamming the public to put an extra dollar into their pocket…
    There’s just no shame…

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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