With a strong tradition of organized labor, we in the Bay Area are used to hearing about contract negotiations. Most of the time management and labor sit down, hammer it out and reach an agreement. So what's up at BART?
Creating difficulty during bargaining seems to be standard operating procedure for Thomas Hock, the private transit company lawyer BART hired to lead negotiations. Delay and trouble are the methods Hock employed last year in Nevada. He and his team were cited for violating federal labor law for, among other things, bargaining with no intention to reach agreement and refusing to provide requested information. Tactics like selective information sharing or purposefully delaying progress don't inspire confidence.
So what's at the heart of the dispute? We've been inundated with stories about how good BART workers allegedly have it, however, such stories fail to mention the cuts BART workers agreed to in their 2009 contract, and that unlike most of us, BART employees won't receive Social Security.
Important safety concerns that leave workers and the public in harm's way are also at issue. Improved lighting and prompt repairs to tracks and trains are some of the safety measures labor wants on the table. We've all heard about assaults endured by station agents. If agents aren't safe, who is? BART's skilled workforce is a tremendous asset, and all employees and commuters should have confidence that safety is a paramount concern.
Revenue projections produced by BART staff leave the impression that BART is in fiscal trouble. But a closer look at how BART has structured its finances reveals opportunities that could have increased revenues, lessening the need to ask riders to pay higher fares or workers to suffer additional cuts.
For example, when transit improvements are made, nearby property owners benefit. UC Berkeley professor Robert Cervero has documented how properties owners in downtown San Francisco experienced huge gains in land value during the '70s and '80s along the BART corridor. Assessment districts around BART stations could have been established to give BART the ability to recover some of the value nearby commercial property owners gained from this publicly generated increase in land values.
There is currently a bill in the state Legislature, Senate Bill 142 by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, which would ease the process for BART and other transit agencies to authorize the creation of such special districts, enabling levies around transit hubs to pay for improvements, repairs and construction.
Before the two sides lock heads again, it's time for the board to ask pointed questions about BART's negotiating tactics, how it values safety and the potential for new revenue opportunities. Respect for the Bay Area working families who keep the trains running and get riders where they need to go needs to underpin these negotiations.
Meanwhile, we in the state Assembly have asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to investigate BART's financial status. It's time for the numbers to come out, so that we can ensure that taxpayer dollars are being properly spent.
With new information and a new perspective both sides have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves, bargain in good faith, and reach an agreement that provides all of us a stable and safe system.
Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta and Bill Quirk are Democratic members of the California Assembly.