afscme_logoI am never been a staunch supporter of unions prior to this year. When I was hired at United Airlines I was thrust into the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Local 1932. During my tenure on the ramp I never used of the services provided at the local level, went to one union meet (because they were serving El Pollo Loco) and never voted. Being a model employee I never had need to use the grievance process because of a management infringement on my union rights.

When hired at BART, I signed my card and paid my dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). One of the smaller groups governed by a union, with SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555 drawing a majority of the membership. Our membership is quite diverse in terms of job titles as covered in Section 3.2 of our contract.

Recently, with contract negotiations raging, fueled by a 4 day strike at the beginning of July 4, the Train Controllers have been very vocal towards officers and executive board members. In a closed door session with (now) past president, the controllers were appalled and upset (as was much of the general membership) with the actions of the board, including the president. Our meeting led to her downfall and eventually resignation when charges were brought forth against her.

Since that time we have taken a liking to the Business Agent at Council 57 and her thoughts and comments as it pertains to our situation. She has provided us with strong words and brought our group in the Operations Control Center (Train Controllers & Vehicle Maintenance Supervisors) closer as a group. We were also the group that brought charges forward against (now) past president. None of us in the OCC accepted the temporary agreement and in a statement made to the press, supported the strike of ATU and SEIU workers at BART, even when we were told we could return to work.

Now as we approach the Sunday, August 4th midnight deadline there is little movement in contract negotiations, depending on what source you consider reliable. A strike is imminent, the duration, unknown. Unions continue to organize in order to strike and walk the picket line until we receive a fair and just contract, considering the $100 million we gave in concessions just 4 years ago.

I was contacted by our Council 57 Business Agent to determine my interest in being the strike captain at Pittsburg/Bay Point Station. She detailed what the position would require and agreed to take on the roll. This is hopefully the first step in further union involvement with AFSCME, as I am going to consider a position in the local when elections come up in September.

We seem to have a very strong and vocal group in the control center, but no one seems to have the time to put into the union effort. We are united and continue to push for change in our contract. Hopefully with the support of the membership, especially those in the control center and our Business Agent I can make the right moves and gain a seat on the union board.

In Solidarity

bohica-bartAs an AFSCME member and BART employee I supported ATU & SEIU when union contracts expired at midnight on June 30. While my union could not picket, we could support the other unions, which I and my fellow union members did. Unfortunately during the 4 day strike I have lost all faith in the president of Local 3993. Her actions, breaking solidarity with the other unions might have gotten her a temporary agreement (TA) between AFSCME and BART management, but only enraged those employees who work in the operations control center. That comprises a group of only 25 out of a 215 member union, one that has a “me too” clause attached to it when it comes to union bargaining.

Behind a closed door meeting on July 3, between the union president and secretary with the OCC employees we literally got sold out by the union. The TA read, “The agreement means important changes to our compensation and classification system plus other improvements that will put us in a good place for the four years.” That was followed by, “If you want to return to work under this new tentative agreement it is within your rights.” Unfortunately returning to work for me, as a train controller would have been job suicide! The union majority are pencil pushers and analysts in our Lakeside office and do not deal with front line employees like train operators, foreworkers and station agents on a daily basis. I have spent the better part of 7 years building relationships with these employees, which make my job easier to accomplish. Returning to work in the face of this strike would have enraged the train operators and all those relationships I built would have been destroyed.

Much like ATU & SEIU voting 99% in favor of the strike, our group was unanimous, no one would cross the picket line. We went so far to draw up our own statement for release:

Statement for release to all AFSCME, SEIU, AND ATU members on behalf of the Train Controllers and Central Maintenance Supervisors.
     We are members of AFSCME 3993.  We want to state we emphatically support our ATU and SEIU brothers and sisters in their ongoing negotiations. 

     A tentative agreement was reached by our Union Board leadership.  A portion of that agreement included a statement from our negotiating members which encouraged our members to cross the picket lines of our ATU and SEIU brothers and sisters.  We are invoking our rights to continue to honor all picket lines. Your fight is our fight.  We, the Train Controllers and Central Maintenance supervisors within the Operations Control Center stand in solidarity with our Brothers and Sisters and will not cross the picket lines.

Social media seemed to be the best outlet for information, couldn’t trust the media to put out an honest story. I made it known while listening to the drivel from our union president that train controllers were not crossing the picket line. In a show of support train controllers made it out to strike locations including El Cerrito Del Norte, West Oakland, Walnut Creek, Fremont and Dublin-Pleasanton. This show of support seemed to go far and gave ATU & SEIU the reassurance we stood in solidarity with them in our fight with BART management.

While AFSCME accepted the TA it still needs to go to a vote with the general membership, hopefully we have a strong enough voice that it won’t pass. Until then BART management and the unions have 30 days to knock out an agreement or we will go back out supporting ATU and SEIU in their strike.

Don’t Look Now

As of last week, I began riding the train to work…again. It was the onset of $3.00/gallon for gas that had me driving 15 miles to North Concord, as opposed to 42 miles to Lake Merritt Station. With this change, I can usually go upwards of a week on a tank of gas, which saves me an extra fill up each week.

I ride the early morning train out of North Concord, where seating is never a problem. Of course heading home from work can sometimes be another story. For example I transferred at 12th Street last week and the 9-car Bay Point train was only five cars. It was standing room only until Pleasant Hill. Again, not a real big deal.

What is a bigger deal that I have tried to ignore recently is the labor negotiations that are currently being conducted. This occurs every four years and I recall the last time there was rumor of BART going on strike, but unlike this time I was a rider. This time I am an employee.

In all honesty I have not really followed negotiations. I am a union member, but our union, AFSCME is small, which means we vote the way of ATU and SEIU. Thankfully, my department does have someone on the negotiating committee and are provided timely information.

I have been reading news stories, thoughts and comments on different web sites regarding the situation. In the end, if a strike does occur, no one wins. Ridership, much like the employees that make up the labor force want to see a contract proposed and agreed upon before having to make that strike vote.

Of course what makes things much more difficult this negotiation is the fact BART is facing a $100 million deficit over the next 4 years. The State of California is broke, unemployment is nearing a record high and the economical health of the country is still suffering from the previous years. Nothing is looking greener on the other side of the fence.

I am not here to say management is wrong on their position or the unions are right. As an employee I do not want to strike. I am very thankful for the chance I had to go through the interview and training process in order to certify and have a great job. Coming from the airline industry, where United was continually operating in the red and pay cuts came every 6 months (totaling nearly 35%) and you were required to do more work and be thankful you were still employed.

I was hopefully those days were behind me and BART would be a breath of fresh air, which it has been. It has exceeded my expectations, up until now. I have a good job that pays well, with excellent benefits and compensation package. Unfortunately, I don’t have much say in what happens in the coming weeks. All I can hope for is management and the unions to agree on a contract that is a win-win situation for company and the ridership.