By Laila Kearney, October 18, 2013
Commuter rail workers in the San Francisco Bay Area walked off their
jobs on Friday after talks on a new contract broke down over workplace
rules, throwing the morning commute into chaos in the traffic-clogged
Northern California region.
The walkout by Bay Area Rapid
Transit (BART) workers shut down a rail system that carries about
400,000 passengers a day, transporting commuters back and forth between
Oakland, San Francisco and outlying suburbs.
am mad as hell. It's a big hassle thanks to BART," said Jurgen Ware,
who lives in the Bay Area suburb of Dublin and had to carpool to his job
in San Francisco. He also blamed rail workers, saying they "have a
stranglehold on the city."
walkout was the second this year. BART workers went on strike for four
and a half days in July, forcing some people to miss work and others to
endure commutes of three hours or more.
months BART management and employee unions have been at loggerheads
over pay and benefits for more than 2,000 train drivers and other union
workers who are demanding large pay raises, in part to offset being
asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more for healthcare.
the terms of the last contract offer made public, BART said it offered a
12 percent pay raise over four years to workers, who management says
earn on average $79,000 a year plus benefits. The unions put the average
worker's salary at $64,000.
leaders have justified their demands for higher pay in part by pointing
out that San Francisco and nearby Oakland are among the 10 most
expensive U.S. cities in which to live.
negotiating late every day this week, the union said the sides had
finally reached an overall understanding on pay and benefits, but were
at odds over workplace rules that the unions said BART had proposed at
the last minute.
The proposed rules
included allowing same-day schedule changes, eliminating marginal pay
increases for certain senior custodial staff and scrapping past
practices that included guidelines for how an injured worker would be
integrated back onto the job, Service Employees International Union
spokeswoman Cecille Isidro told Reuters.
announced the strike and a federal mediator, who had been involved in
the negotiations, said he was ending efforts at conciliation because
there was no more he could do.
FREE BUS SERVICE
commuter train service helps alleviate car traffic in San Francisco,
which ranks as the third most congested metropolitan area in the United
States after Los Angeles and Honolulu, according to the roadway traffic software company INRIX Inc.
promised free charter buses and expanded ferry services, but said those
services were capable of transporting a limited number of people,
making it likely many would have to drive into the city.
are doing the best we can to serve those commuters who have absolutely
no other way to get into San Francisco," said BART spokeswoman Luna
Salaver. "We regret that this work stoppage affects not only our
customers but the rest of the region as well."
is a big inconvenience," said Warren Mamuntag, 48, an Oakland resident,
as he lined up for a bus instead of the train he normally takes to
BART released a statement urging the union to put management's proposals to a vote or continue negotiating.
"It is unfortunate our union leaders have chosen to further disrupt the lives of Bay Area commuters while hurting the economy with a shortsighted strike when there are other options on the table," said BART spokesman Rick Rice.
Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, said the strike would
end if BART management agrees to arbitration on the work rules still in
"All of a sudden these
issues that weren't discussed at the table were deal breakers," Castelli
said. "We want to sign a contract, workers want to go to work, we want
everyone to be able to get on with their lives."
train mechanic David Kwan, 59, marched alongside other workers outside
of the Lake Merritt station in downtown Oakland, carrying a sign that
read, "Unfair labor practice, on strike."
said he was prepared to picket every day for the duration of the
strike, but many of his coworkers have families to support. "They have
young children, so it will affect them more than me," he said.