Story update -
As of late Monday night, unions and BART management announced a tentative agreement in negotiations to end the strike. This set the pace for the first BART trains to be running after 4:00 a.m. Tuesday, October 22.
Both union members and the BART Board of Directors will need to vote and ratify the agreed changes. If both sides agree, Bay Area commuters might be spared another strike until four years from now.
By Rem O'Donnelley
San Francisco commuters experienced a fourth day of traffic jams Monday morning without having BART trains running due to the strike by BART employees.
BART is the fifth-largest commuter rail system in the country and has trains running in San Francisco and the East Bay. Since Friday when the strike started, there have been talks where BART management and employees have agreed on health care, pensions and pay. What remains are topics pertaining to “new technology” and management changing “work rules”. One of these is giving management full control of changing working rules including working hours that unions say would affect safety. These are all difficult issues to verify as negotiations are still continuing behind closed doors.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555 both represent the BART workers on strike.
The SEIU members have a 24 hour picket line at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland as well as picket lines at all of the BART train maintenance yards. The ATU members are picketing at various BART stations.
Monday morning at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station that is located between Berkeley and Richmond, the changes were evident. While the parking lot was full like any other day, there were no crowds of people around the station, no sound of trains and none of the many buses that stop there. On the sidewalks surrounding the station, union members walked while holding up their picket signs, making themselves visible to drivers and pedestrians.
The grounds of the BART station are inside of the picket line and the collection of transportation districts with buses stopping there had instead posted signs showing temporary locations across the street from the station. Across the major thoroughfare of San Pablo Avenue, the AC Transit bus stop heading South towards Oakland and San Francisco was swamped. A line of about 50 people long waited for buses.
Waiting at that bus stop was Cynthia Crawford of the nearby town of Richmond. She crossed San Pablo Avenue from the BART station to stand in a long line and try to get on an AC Transit L line. One bus was full, so she was waiting for the next bus. She was to start work at 8:00 a.m. but it was 8:30 a.m. already. Crawford commutes to San Francisco to her job across the street from city hall. She said her commute had taken longer today. She was also frustrated with the miscommunication about the times shuttle busses would be running to San Francisco.
“I was there (El Cerrito Del Norte BART station) at 7:30 a.m. thinking I'd catch the 8:00 a.m bus. When I got there they told me 'no, it depends on our last bus, not 8:00 a.m.' So the news was reporting 8:00 a.m. but what happened was when I got there at 7:30 a.m. I had already missed the last bus at 7:15 a.m.” Crawford said.
She is a state employee and is supporting BART workers. “I want the workers to win. I do understand what they are going through because the State of California has also done the same thing to us. So I'm with the workers,” she explained.
In addition to the strike costing her more time to get around, it is also costing her more money. “I'm paying more money to get to work and to come home that wasn't allowed in my budget,” Crawford said.
The strike resulting in BART trains not running is costing other commuters too. Brian, who didn't want to give his last name, lives in Richmond and takes BART to downtown San Francisco. He says it takes one hour longer each way with taking the bus. Before the strike, his total commute would take him one hour. His feelings about the strike are mixed. “I don't really know what side to take. I just think they ought to clear things up as fast as possible,” Sadler said.
Tim who commutes from Richmond to Berkeley also said his commute takes much longer than usual and while wanting a solution he also tries to remain focused on his commute. “It's inconvenient, I think they need to get it together. This is affecting everyone so something needs to happen and it needs to happen like now. But until the end, we need to do what we can do to survive and I think they need to do something,” he said.
Standing at the bus stop for over an hour was Erika Munoz. It takes her and her junior high school student daughter an hour and fifteen minutes usually to get to San Francisco which requires a bus from home to BART, BART to the city, followed by another bus. “So with this happening we have to take four buses. Today it's taking over two hours,” Munoz said.
“Coming home, you know we live in Richmond, further inland and there's a lot of gun violence going on there. We come home late so it's dangerous too at the same time. Before the strike we came home at 6:30 p.m. I left work at 5:30 p.m. and got home almost 9:00 p.m. Friday,” she said.
She describes how the commuters are paying the price for the strike. “I don't feel that they're really taking into consideration about how this affects passengers that ride. ...They should start caring more about the condition of the BART trains before they go on strike, if anything, to make it safer for the passengers. “ Munoz said.
“They're really not making any friends right now. But like at the same time I feel sympathetic towards their needs too at the same time. I just wish that they would go about it a different way,“ she said.
Attempts at interviewing ATU union members picketing at the El Cerrito Del Norte station were directed to their union representative back in the office.
During a brief conversation with a picketing employee it was mentioned that the little pay the members are receiving while being on strike does not cover the cost of his groceries.
Having a phone conversation with BART train operator Yolanda Moreno at ATU Local 1555 she mentioned that the strike is affecting her home finances. “Sure, just in general, I have to keep an eye on everyday spending.”
Cecille Isidro, is the spokesperson for SEIU Local 1021. Asking if the union feels that the majority of the public understands what they are fighting for she said, “I can't speak for the public but you know the workers have been pushed out to go on strike after months of BART management saying it is about money to buy new trains.”
The mention of workplace safety was brought up. “BART management put forward an agreement with a condition on removal of critical workplace protection,” Isidro said.
Spokesman for BART, Rick Rice announced both sides would return to the meeting table Monday afternoon. BART hope that they could reach an agreement with the unions Monday night so commuters can resume riding BART and avoid another day of traffic jams. BART commuters will wake up Tuesday morning to find out if it is a long bus trip or a speedy rail ride on their morning commute.