Employees at the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, did not show up for work today to protest the low wages and inadequate safety provisions in their renewed contract. This is the first strike since a six-day protest sixteen years ago.
What is mostly at issue is whether the wages in the contract will reflect the rising cost of living in the bay area. The union asked for a 23 percent raise during four years while BART countered with an 8 percent increase during four years, which doubled their original offer.
The unions have also taken issue with certain safety provisions. Workers got upset over a proposal to require employees to pay more into their health care benefits. Negotiations hit another bump when unions demanded greater safety precautions including bulletproof glass and better lighting in tunnels. A spokesman for BART, however, characterized these demands as a “smokescreen;” contract negotiations are not the appropriate place to raise these concerns.
However, caught in the crosshairs of contract negotiation are hundreds of thousands of stranded commuters, especially low income commuters without access to other means of transportation. In 2012, BART serviced an average of 366,565 riders per weekday. The U.S. Census Bureau even named the bay area one of the top regions for “mega-commuting,” or a commute longer than 90 minutes. Though unclear how long the strike will last, in the interim greater pressure will be placed on all other modes of transportation. Highways will clog, ferries will be crowded and MUNI, the bay area bus system, will likely be flooded.
Perhaps a safety precaution both employees and employers at BART should consider is hygiene. BART’s plush blue fabric seats are home to mold and fecal and skin-borne bacteria, according to a San Francisco State University study.
As July 4 approaches, bay area residents may have to host local barbecues or watch the fireworks from afar if negotiations do not resume.