Safety of BART Employees and Riders At Center of the Current Dispute

by John Logan, San Francisco State University

For several weeks, BART management has run a sophisticated media campaign telling the public that the lack of real progress in negotiations is solely the fault of the unions’ unreasonable and uncompromising economic demands.

When it comes to wages and benefits, however, management has presented a highly misleading picture: it has failed to mention the enormous concessions that BART workers accepted in 2009 at the depth of the economic recession. BART President Thomas Blalock stated that he was “extremely pleased” with that cost-cutting agreement. BART employees were much less pleased, of course, but they recognized the need for significant sacrifice in the dismal economy.

Under the guidance of their highly paid, out-of-state chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, BART management is misrepresenting key economic and safety issues. Hock has an outstanding reputation for driving down employees’ wages and benefits, but a dismal one for resolving disputes without disruptive strikes. By characterizing its bargaining position as fair and generous, BART management has failed to explain that, under its most recent written offer, most BART employees would barely stay in place, while many on the lowest incomes would likely fall even further behind. Nor has management explained how top management, not frontline workers, enjoy some of the system’s most expensive and wasteful job perks.

BART management has also consistently misrepresented several key safety issues that are at the heart of the dispute.  BART management has, for the most part, failed to resolve the unions’ concerns on worker and rider safety.  Indeed, State Controller John Chiang, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones wrote to management recommending that they “treat frontline employees-many of whom have raised numerous valid concerns about worker and rider safety-as partners in creating a safer system.” Thus far, BART management has failed to heed their wise advice.

The figures on safety for BART employees speak for themselves. Since 2009, BART management has cut the system’s operations staff by 8 percent. During the same 4-year period injuries that BART reported to Cal-OSHA have increased by a whopping 43 percent. Hundred of BART workers are now injured on the job every year. And as a result of BART’s dysfunctional and inefficient workers’ comp system, many injured workers are involuntarily forced out of their jobs for weeks or even months at a time.

BART workers also face the threat of physical violence on a regular basis. 30 BART station agents were assaulted at work in 2009, while the same number were assaulted during the first four months of 2013. Recent incidents have involved an agent being attacked with a knife, an agent being punched in the face, an agent being thrown down stairs, and an agent being attacked by a group of five teenagers. As a result, several BART station agents have ended up in hospital with serious injuries. Other BART agents have had to deal with fatal shootings or horrific suicides in or around their stations. Yet BART management has thus far refused to do what is necessary to ensure worker and rider safety throughout the system.

BART management needs to spend more time engaging in real discussions at the bargaining table and less time trying to win the battle of public opinion through its sophisticated media campaign. Negotiating through the media may be easier than doing it face-to-face, but it won’t resolve this dispute.

And neither will management’s misrepresentation of the key economic and safety issues at the heart of the negotiations.


6 thoughts on “Safety of BART Employees and Riders At Center of the Current Dispute”

  1. If Safety is really at the center of the Dispute….

    WHY did the union ask for a TWENTY THREE PER CENT RAISE ?

    Everybody has to compromise

    And, yes Safety is important

    Put more cameras in the stations

    and get rid of the bums sleeping, loitering, panhandling in BART and BART/Muni stations

    They’re transportation stations, Not homeless shelters

  2. Everyone deserves to work in a safe environment.  Do you know the nature of the workers’ comp claims?  Are they back issues?  Repetitive motion?  Is the underlying issue poor training?  Bad equipment?  

    I think to most of the public, this is a pure economic issue: workers want more money and management wants to give less.  I know these things are always more complex than they seem, but that is how it appears to the public.

    It would be great if the unions would articulate the specific safety issues and discuss what management ought to do to address the root causes.

  3. John Logan is a professor at SF State in Labor Studies.  He is a speaker at the Cal. Labor Federation annual meetings and has been honored for his support of the organization.

    He is paid about $90,000 per academic year as the Labor Dept. head at SF State.  This fall he’ll teach 2 classes on Fridays and have 1 hour of office hours each week of the term.  Oh, he offers internships for academic credit where you actually work for a labor union (at below minimum wage?).  

    He does not own a car.  He takes BART from his East Bay residence.

    Here is his rating from a former student:

    Professor Logan is a nice teacher. He gives weekly quizzes and takes attendance. You must make sure you attend all his classes to receive your full participation points. The papers are one one page. I wrote a total of 2 pages in his class. There is a group project too but nothing too hard. The midterm and final are take home too.

    Given how hard he works as a professor, that he rides BART at least 1x per week, his internships, well, do you expect to get a reasonable analysis of the issues?

    I have no issue with his position, but I certainly don’t expect any balance in his analysis.  Look elsewhere comrade.

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