A good friend, a solid Democrat, sent me a text Monday night. "Have they settled?" he asked. When I told him no, he shot back another message: "Fire them all."
This was a hard week for those of us who have defended public employee collective bargaining rights. When it comes to transit workers, the chorus call for taking away their strike option seemed to grow exponentially.
This wasn't the predictable conservative cry. It came from the unions' political base, Democrats. It was understandable. After all, BART and AC Transit labor leaders have demonstrated amazing disdain for the people who pay their salaries. That would be riders and taxpayers.
"A strike is bad for labor, it's bad for commuters, it's bad for the economy," state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said days before BART workers walked off the job. "I don't think the public supports it. You're striking against working people."
He's right. And polling data backs it up.
An EMC Research survey, conducted for the Bay Area Council, shows 77 percent of BART-area residents opposed a strike and 63 percent said unions should accept management's offer.
The poll was taken Sept. 29-Oct. 2, before BART management sweetened the deal. It surveyed residents of Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, some of the nation's most progressive territory. Looking at just Democrats, the base of union political support, 72 percent opposed a strike and 62 percent said workers should take the deal.
Labor leaders were unmoved. Their members were being offered annual raises while they were being asked to start making minimal pension contributions and kick in slightly more to their generous health care benefits. It worked out to a net salary increase of about 9 percent over the next four years.
Management also was asking for badly needed work rule flexibility that is standard elsewhere in the industry so that BART could eliminate horrible inefficiencies. But the unions wanted more money without the rule changes.
It wasn't just that labor leaders' demands were outrageous, it was their behavior. When they finally announced the Friday strike, they lied that the work rule changes were injected into the bargaining at the last moment. The issue had been on the table from the start six months ago.
Before they walked, the unions treated the public like dirt. Five times in less than a week, they issued strike threats for the following day and then waited until after 10 p.m. -- including three times after 1 a.m. -- to pull back. On a daily basis, hundreds of thousands of commuters went to bed not knowing when they should rise to get to work on time -- not knowing whether there would be BART service in the morning or whether the highways would be gridlocked.
The unions could have revealed their strike decision each night at a reasonable hour. Instead, they held commuters hostage hoping they, in turn, would pressure BART management to settle. We were pawns in a childish game. The effect on our daily lives was incidental.
One of the most arrogant moves came Monday, when the union representing AC Transit drivers and mechanics announced they, too, would strike Thursday morning. It was the same union that represents BART train operators, station agents and train-yard workers. The plan was clear: Concurrent walkouts would bring the Bay Area to its knees.
Fortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown, whom organized labor had worked hard to elect, blocked that gambit by invoking the first steps toward an AC Transit cooling-off period. Earlier in the week, DeSaulnier, asked by labor leaders to lean on BART directors, had instead told the unions to get real.
Nevertheless, each day BART unions held out the possibility of a strike the next morning. And, each day, their credibility sunk further.
Once this is over, the unions will ask everyone to move on. They will complain about riders who vent anger at station agents and train operators. This time, more so than past years, it will be hard to just forgive and forget.
It will be hard to show them more civility than they showed us.
Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BorensteinDan.