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First in Wisconsin, Now at BART

Labor Takes a Stand

by JACK GERSON

Two years ago, Wisconsin public workers and services were under assault. Hundreds of thousands of workers converged on the state capital, Madison, to fight austerity cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 shutdown Bay Area ports in solidarity with the Wisconsin struggle. Now BART workers and the Bay Area are in the crosshairs of the national labor struggle, and Wisconsin South Central Labor Council President Kevin Gundlach has pledged solidarity with BART workers.

The BART unions’ temporary work agreement ends Sunday night and a new strike is likely. During the BART strike in early July, media coverage suggested these were “greedy workers” making life miserable for the public and jeopardizing the economy.

That’s not what I found. Workers told me, “We’re fighting for all of us, to say ‘No more cuts.’ ” I’m convinced they are.

Four years ago, the unions agreed to wage and hiring freezes that saved BART about $100 million. Compared to 2009, BART has fewer workers; work-related injuries have increased. Those concessions were made in bad times. Now times are good (BART projects a $125 million-a-year surplus for 10 years). But management demands more concessions, seeking cuts to pensions, health care and compensation. BART management wants to jeopardize rider safety by cutting vehicle safety inspectors.

BART unions want a three-year contract with better safety conditions, no more cuts to pensions or health care and modest pay increases to keep them on par with the Bay Area’s cost of living. The money’s there, more than enough to improve safety and increase pay. Even a modest levy on developers and corporations, whose property values soar when BART expands, could reduce or eliminate fares.

Transit strikes make getting around a pain in the neck. But who’s causing the pain? BART spent $399,000 on negotiator Thomas Hock, who has provoked strikes in several cities.

Wall Street and banks want to privatize and squeeze profits out of everything Americans have won through generations of struggle. We must fight back.

It will take solidarity from AC Transit and port workers, City College of San Francisco workers, teachers and students, city and county workers, nurses and postal workers, the unemployed and the underemployed. All of us.

The Bay Area has a proud tradition of labor and community unity going back to the 1934 general strike. The rank-and-file of AFSCME 3993, angered by their president, who directed them to cross BART strikers’ picket lines, removed her as their chief negotiator in the BART dispute.

Let’s turn the tide on austerity. Business depends on BART to deliver their workers and their customers. If BART workers shut it down and win a decent contract, it’ll be a victory for us all.

Rally to support BART workers

Who: Called by Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 1555 and 192, Service Employees International Union 1021, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3993, International Longshore Warehouse Union 10

Where: Frank Ogawa Plaza, at Broadway and 14th St., Oakland

When: 5 p.m., Thursday

Jack Gerson, a retired Oakland public schoolteacher, lives in Oakland and rides BART.