The BART Strike Media Fail

Mike Elk

The MacArthur BART station closed in July during the workers' first strike. (Cathy=)/Flickr)

Ear­ly today, BART work­ers across the Bay Area went on strike, shut­ting down pub­lic tran­sit in San Fran­cis­co and sur­round­ing cities. How­ev­er, in the cov­er­age by the two major Bay Area papers, the San Jose Mer­cury News nor the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle, a key detail was miss­ing: exact­ly how many work­ers are out on strike. I asked around and the Amal­ga­mat­ed Tran­sit Union (ATU), one of three unions rep­re­sent­ing the strik­ing work­ers, told me the answer is 2,400.

Also absent from most media cov­er­age were the details of a dis­pute over work­place author­i­ty that has been a major stick­ing point in nego­ti­a­tions. A state­ment post­ed on ATU Local 1555’s Face­book page fills in the gaps:

In the past three days, we’ve found agree­ment on near­ly every must-have” issue for both sides includ­ing wages, hours, pen­sions and ben­e­fits. How­ev­er, the last 72 hours have seen man­age­ment demand new — and unrea­son­able — work­place author­i­ty that would give them license to abuse and extort our work­ers as we approached the fin­ish line. BART owes us and the entire Bay Area an apol­o­gy for their actions.

Nego­ti­a­tions ground to a halt as BART man­age­ment intro­duced new work rules designed to reduce employ­ee pow­er in the work­place and employ­ee work­place pro­tec­tions long after these issues had been pre­vi­ous­ly set aside. Management’s desired changes to work rules could mean:

— Train oper­a­tors being told mid-shift to leave the train and serve as Janitor

— Train oper­a­tors told by man­age­ment to skip safe­ty breaks and con­tin­ue oper­at­ing trains and putting pas­sen­gers at risk

— Train oper­a­tors and even sta­tion agents being told to report to work at sites not agreed upon in advance — caus­ing great hard­ships for family

— Mem­bers, espe­cial­ly those work­ing ear­ly morn­ing or late evening shifts, hav­ing their sched­ules changed with lit­tle to no notice — a huge impo­si­tion for union mem­bers with small children[D2]

Bryant con­tin­ued, We were close to a deal, but man­age­ment kept mov­ing the fin­ish line. Now they have put a brick wall where the fin­ish line should have been. They have left us with no recourse but to reeval­u­ate our role in these unpro­duc­tive nego­ti­a­tions.”

Giv­en the holes in the media cov­er­age, it’s unclear how many of the 400,000 com­muters poten­tial­ly affect­ed by this strike would know that this strike was not over wages, but over work rules that could force skilled train oper­a­tors to stop their jobs mid-shift and clean up some­one else’svomit. Cur­rent­ly the ATU’s post only has four likes“ on Face­book; the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle and the San Jose Mer­cury News have a com­bined dai­ly cir­cu­la­tion of more than 700,000.

Report­ing on mass tran­sit strikes that focus­es on the bur­den for com­muters is not uncom­mon. As In These Times alum­nus and MSNBC host Chris Hayes wrote for In These Times back in 2006 while cov­er­ing the New York City tran­sit strike:

Sol­i­dar­i­ty. Now there’s an anachro­nism. The news media doesn’t talk about sol­i­dar­i­ty; it employs the assured and pep­py tone that speaks to the indi­vid­ual con­sumer: After the break: We’ll tell you how the strike will affect your morn­ing com­mute. Sol­i­dar­i­ty is the oppo­site of news you can use.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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