Whose Strike, My Strike

I’ve been told by progressive friends and pols that it’s not really union busting if the union is left intact. But now we know according to Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express, BART’s Lead Negotiator Has a History of Illegal Behavior, that the board that we voted for did knowingly hire a negotiator who makes it his job to, “make permanent the pay and benefits rollbacks that workers have endured in recent years,” according to BondGraham’s research.

How many times have I read this past week- “I’ve always been a union supporter but”-BART train operators make a lot of money or…they should have to pay some of their retirement costs or… health care has gone up or, the best and most astounding-unions have too much power nowadays!

Yeah, unions aren’t perfect. I was a train operator back in BART’s early years, and I can tell you that the unions weren’t any more welcoming than management was to adding women to that workforce. I took that job precisely because it was a traditionally-male job with good pay and benefits that the pink collar world did not offer. Before that I was a cabdriver in San Francisco. It was union but very loosely organized and without the kind of security that BART offered.

Transportation is a strange type of work. Your hours are so outside those of 9 to 5 folks that you soon lose connection with that workaday world and most of the people in it. Eventually, that and the stress of being one of the first women in that job category plus the lack of job satisfaction led me away from it.

Since then I have been a teacher in many public and one private school. There are lots of poor excuses for why teachers make less than other professions, professions where you get on-the-job training, not on-your-own-time, on-your-on-dime-training, but that’s another discussion for another time-as a friend of mine used to say. I was also a city council aide when it had no job protections-I mean none, but it is now a part of IFPTE, Local 21. My experience as a city council aide was one of the reasons that the union was organized by other aides.

So back to BART, or back to unions and the point of supporting one of the only remaining institutions standing between us and the New Feudalism, the new indentured servitude, the sharecropping that we now call work, the unpaid internships, the low paid fellowships, the temping, and, not to be left out, the sort of pay we get when we work for non-profits with their tiny margins and gaping needs for unpaid extra hours. Here’s to contracting and free-lancing, the New American Nightmare of Lifelong Austerity, the Permanent Recession OR here’s to organizing and fighting together for real benefits. Here’s to a dignified retirement.

Yeah, maybe you’re not in a union since most of the above luckless “careers” don’t have them. But the union movement fights to get them for you, and they continue to fight to stanch the loss of workers’ rights, all workers. They are all that stands between us and the triumph of oligarchy.

Some unions may have become big and unwieldy but, public sector unions especially, are now made up primarily of women, immigrants, and people of color who know the struggles of folks who never had much power or wealth. Hey, maybe that’s one reason they get less respect than they used to-they no longer look like the average 1 percenter.

Back to union-busting, the real growth industry. Is it union busting to ask people to pay a little more of their family’s healthcare costs or their retirement benefits? It can’t be union busting then to offer a wage increase in return for an increase in the cost of pensions and doctor’s visits. Nah, don’t call it union busting then-just call it union neutering.

Why would you offer something with one hand while trying to take away a bit with the other, maybe you’ll get a little raise but in the process you’re giving up some security in the future. Why do you think they do it? Is it some kind of shell game? Yes, it is. It’s a game that says, you once had the benefits of a dignified retirement but we’re betting we can chip away at that by offering a few pennies to spend right now since you were so accommodating when times were hard. Why, you even worked harder for less pay.

Okay, so maybe BART needs that money, that surplus I’ve read about, to buy more cars and upgrade the system so many of us depend upon. Then I want the BART board to come out and tell us that, explain to us exactly what the options are, hold public meetings and let the taxpayers, the riders, the workers among us who believe in solidarity for our own sakes, what is at stake.

Don’t hire creepy law-breaking negotiators whose job it is to obfuscate, delay and frustrate the union folk, our neighbors. People don’t strike because they enjoy losing days at work.

I’m calling on Robert Raburn and Rebecca Saltzman, folks I’ve put my trust in, to come to us and lay BART’s cards on the table. I’m certainly going to remember Zachary Mallett, should he ever come before me for an endorsement, for denouncing the ATU and the SEIU workers who gave back in hard times. And I thank James Fang for walking the picket line and realizing that it was a mistake to leave the board out of negotiations. We elected a progressive board and we expect them to act like one. Trust us, your constituents, to see the wisdom in your decisions by letting us see you make them.