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.

Getting Up to Speed

Seems there are times where I get into these ruts where I end up pushing the website to the back burner, but usually return some with regular news. While many won’t have any interest in what I am discussing, it’s just one of those things I like to keep updated, especially when going back years later to reread what I wrote.

While nothing has had my undivided attention, the looming strike at work may be coming to the forefront as of Sunday evening. While it would be nice to have some time off, having that extended break would come with no paycheck. So a few days…sure. A few weeks…not really. Any period longer than that. Uh, no. I really don’t have an opinion I feel needs to be voiced about the situation. I say that because I don’t want anything to come back and bite me in the ass. And while the Internet is a vast, back hole, somehow I could see my opinions doing that. So, with that said, if indeed there is a strike, I will honor it, along with others in my union.

As I have said before, many employees who have never worked outside this company do not know how good they have it. United was a living nightmare for at least 5 years! Pay cuts, benefits cut, pensions cut. Yet, because of the love of the airlines, I wanted to stay. Unfortunately it got to a point where I knew I would not be able to provide for my family and have a comfortable retirement. So I did what was BEST for me.

That is probably my only point of contention when it comes to outsiders voicing their opinions when they do not have the full story. Each person in their given situation has the choice to get out and make life better for themselves. That is what I did and I was fortunate (and a bit lucky) to be hired by BART. I am thankful every day for it to, even those days when the shit is hitting the fan and things go from bad to worse. So while others might bad mouth some employee groups, those individuals can change things for the better, yet many will choose not to. I guess it is easier to bitch and complain, than doing something to better your situation.

Enough of that. I am still somewhat behind on the website for various reasons. I seem to have projects started that I cannot seem to finish or tackle a new job with finishing others. Just ask my wife. I have been meaning to get some well needed updates posted, but time has not permitted me that luxury. Not that I finally have my former game PC up and running in support of my ham radio, I should have the web cam back online shortly.

It’s funny, but as much as I complained about Facebook, I seem to frequent the site every day. Steph, you can STFU and stop telling me, “I told ya so.” Anyway, you can find me on Facebook with some updates, but this will always be my main playground. More later, as it is time to get off work.

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.