In the wake of last month's BART strike that ended after the agency's board sold out riders and taxpayers, the cry for banning transit worker walkouts grew louder.
Residents were rightfully outraged by the union demands, the daily strike threats that left most commuters at bedtime uncertain whether trains would be running in the morning, and the walkout that gridlocked the region.
Calls to ban strikes will quiet as memories fade. But state lawmakers must not forget how the region was held hostage, and must ensure we don't repeat this dysfunctional dance in four years, when the new contract expires.
We agree that transit workers should be barred, like police and firefighters, from striking, especially in major metropolitan areas economically dependent on public transportation.
But at what cost? The cure, if drafted poorly by the labor-dominated state Legislature, could be worse than the ailment. Much discussion has focused on tying no-strike provisions to binding arbitration when impasse is reached. That's wrong and unnecessary.
In California, where public safety workers cannot strike, most cities and counties do not offer arbitration, a process that turns over policy decisions to unelected lawyers often beholden to unions for their livelihoods. With taxpayer dollars and services at stake, the public, through its elected representatives, should have the final say.
It's not just the principle of representative democracy that's at stake. If we head down the arbitration path, unions, and the legislators they control, will almost certainly oppose essential provisions that would protect the public.
Retired judges rather than professional arbitrators should hear the cases. Their decisions must heavily weigh the financial effect on riders and taxpayers, and the financial stability of the transit system. And the process must not divide issues, instead recognizing, for example, that pay increases must be tied to more efficient work rules.
Before opening this Pandora's box, try these simple ideas: First, daylight negotiations. It's absurd that BART has yet to reveal its deal, leaving people paying for it dependent on union information. Sunshine would help clean this dirty process.
Next, before bargaining, subject financial numbers to independent review. This could have avoided delays caused by workers' false belief that BART was hiding money.
Finally, during negotiations, enforce the last contracts' no-strike provisions. If workers want to continue collecting salaries and benefits, they should also be bound by restrictions of the last deal.
If we could have a simple transit strike ban, we'd take it. But, in this political environment, that's unlikely. And we certainly don't want change that further disadvantages riders and taxpayers.