July 01, 2005

BART Strike!

So the big news here in San Francisco is the impending BART strike. I don't ever use the BART myself, except for the occasional Berkeley or SFO airport trip, so quite selfishly I'm not sharing the greater Bay Area's outrage towards those "greedy," "selfish," and oh yes, "criminal" workers. But it's surprising, I don't know anyone who's siding with the unions—most people point out that BART workers have a pretty sweet average base salary of some $67,000 and leave it at that.

My understanding, though, is that this is being depicted as a simple tug of war in the media—i.e. workers want a big fat raise and cheaper health care, while poor management's facing a $100 million deficit—and that somewhat misses the real problem here. BART's workers are paid out of the operating budget, which the district has been trying to keep from growing for the last decade, and allegedly even transferring money out of it. Now the problem here is that construction costs—new stations, new lines, new projects—have been exploding since the mid-1990s, squeezing the operating budget and reducing the pool of money available for wages and health costs. Land developers and construction companies, of course, are always pushing for both further expansion and donate quite handsomely to election candidates for BART's board of directors. In turn they haul in a handsome profit with new projects in upper-middle class regions like Contra Costa.

Now this larger state of affairs seems pretty unsustainable to me, and my hunch is that even if the two sides reach a settlement unfavorable to the workers, the problem will still persist. Eventually there's going to be yet another fare hike, and the same battle will ensue. Commuters and workers should probably be on the same side here, rather than fighting against each other, no?
-- Brad Plumer 2:18 PM || ||