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.

Negotiations: My Impressions

*sigh* I remember the previous BART strike. Did I already talk about this? It was 4 years ago, I was working for United at SFO. I recall wondering how I was going to get to work, as I had been riding to and from the airport predominately since the 1:45 drive got long and tiring. Fast forward 4 years and I find myself no longer a paying patron, but a BART employee. So what does this have to do with anything?

First, I was never upset at BART employees. I was more upset with management and the fact they seemed to raise ticket prices on a yearly basis. It was no different than the bridge tolls going up a dollar every year since I lived in the bay area.

With contract negotiations going on this year, I have started reading some of the unofficial BART web sites on the Internet in order to get some reactions, comments and thoughts regarding the situation. Let me say, I am rather astonished at some of the attitudes on both sides. Being a patron for about 3 years I wanted the most economical, reliable transportation to and from work. BART was really the only option for me. Since then the economy has tanked. House prices has tanked. Jobless claims seem to climb on a weekly basis. Overall everything is down, yet my move from United to BART, everything was up.

I came out of a very bad situation at United Airlines, which culminated with 9-11. Things at United were bad years prior to that fateful day. After that day there were furloughs, retirements and an overall reorganization of the airline. Pay and benefits were cut as well, not to mention the company stock taking a huge fall. Over the course of 3 years I lost nearly 35% of my total pay.

It was not until my son was born in 2005 I realized I could no longer make a career, like my father did for 35 years, at United Airlines. I wanted to. I loved airplanes. I loved the job. But I hated the direction the company and it’s once proud principals were heading. I decided I needed a change. The opportunity to make that change came and I seized the day, so to speak.

On the day I was offered the job I immediately received a 30% pay raise for accepting the job. Based on the information provided from the Contra Costa Times and their nicely indexed salaries of all BART employees, my pay has increased another 31% since being hired. Nearly a 61% raise since making a decision to find a better job, with better working conditions and a future to look forward to.

I can understand and relate to the negative comments from many outsiders, looking in at BART. I understand the frustration and resentment of many patrons who are not happy with dirty trains, rules and regulations that are not enforced, high ticket prices and some front line employees who seem to come off with an “I don’t care” type of attitude. Unfortunately, everyone at BART suffers because first impressions do go a long way.

This is my first contract experience at BART. I can say I am comfortable with my yearly salary and benefits, based on where I came from, not the past practice at BART since I don’t know much prior to being hired. I hear employees from a few different unions voicing their displeasure with what management is trying to do or has (or hasn’t) been doing leading up to the July 1 deadline. Now we are 10 days past and still in negotiations.

Hopefully whatever transpires benefits all parties involved from employees to management to those patrons who pay their fares to ride daily. As optimistic as I would like to be, negotiations always seem to be ugly and someone always feels they get screwed. Hopefully it is not the patrons who feel screwed in the end.

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.