Word came out today that the union which represents the Bart's station agents and train operators plans to strike starting at midnight on Sunday.
This comes after the union's negotiators concluded an agreement with Bart management, which the union's membership proceeded to vote down by a three-to-one margin.
All the reporting I've seen suggests this strike could last some time, since it's unclear who management should even contact to advance negotiations. Union menbers obviously don't have any faith in their own negotiating team, so I guess they'll have to select new negotiators.
A long Bart shutdown does no one any good, including the workers who are striking. As we saw after the strike 10 years ago, some riders are likely to abandon Bart, because they will find better ways to commute. Other riders will choose other options just out of spite.
In the meantime, it's important to remember that the workers who turned down the contract offer are those with the worst ratio of pay to skills. Bart's station agents and drivers are the highest paid in the country.
And, what they do requires virtually no training. The trains are virtually automated -- and have a history of crashes when drivers switch them into manual mode. The station agents are largely there just to say "no" to customers, and in any case their customer service role is not hard to teach.
When I call these folks overpaid, I'm not making an idle point. These Bart employees make high double-digit salaries, when benefits are included. Some make over $100k, milking their seniority and
Beyond the pay issues, there are the ridiculous work rules detailed at Bart management's website -- http://www.bartlabor.com. One example is a rule preventing Bart from asking station agents to work at stations more than a certain distance apart during any given week. Such rules cost the system money and are completely absurd considering the agents can literally ride the train they're supposed to be helping manage to get to their assignments.
I can understand paying a premium for the people who service and repair the trains. Bart uses a lot of non-standard equipment, so there's an important element of institutional memory to protect there.
But the station agents and train drivers just don't add that much value. Faced with a strike caused by these folks, it's time for Bart management to consider firing all of them and starting over with non-union workers.
Admittedly, such an approach will take some time for training, but I doubt the training time would exceed by much the time it will take to renegotiate with the union. More importantly, eliminating the union provides management a clean slate to reduce pay and benefits to reasonable levels.
I'm sure there are people out there with skills similar to those required to perform these two jobs. In the short term, Bart can find a couple dozen of these folks, train them quickly and get a few of the core stations up and running -- West Oakland and Embarcadero at a minimum. That way, we can avoid the scenario where people can't make it into the city for their jobs.
Unfortunately, I expect Bart's management and directors to view this strike as mostly a political problem. As such, they are unlikely to fire the union workers, since our area is full of Leftist wackos who will support a union even as it chokes the lifeblood out of our transit infrastructure -- an ironic situation when you consider that most Leftists are all for commuter trains.
This strike is going to create a difficult situation for people who work in the private sector. It's also going to discourage people about the future of public transit in the area, which can only be bad for the East Bay, which relies on Bart to take commuters into the city.
What's worse, it's not going to buy the union members anything. The reality is their contracts are completely unsustainable. The best they can hope for is some sort of temporary bone funded by a fare or tax increase.
But the public is losing patience with public-employee unions. Eventually that is going to translate into much tougher negotiating stances. Perhaps this strike will be the beginning of the end for these folks, but I'm not counting on it.
The right solution for Bart is the simplest one. Take a page out of the Reagan playbook and fire every one of these workers.