Looming Bay Area Strikes Unite Unions and Community Groups
After enduring years of give backs and bad faith contract negotiations, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) drivers and workers serving city governments in Oakland and Berkeley have voted to strike on July 1. The BART shutdown will affect some 400,000 daily commuters in San Francisco and the EastBay and is anticipated to result in chaos on the streets and highways of the area as commuters scramble for alternatives. However, early indications are that a BART strike will be quickly followed by a walk out of AC Transit bus drivers who provide commuter services to some 250,000 daily riders in the EastBay. The BART strike is scheduled to begin at 2 am Monday morning with no indication when service might resume.
Later on Monday morning, 3000 members of SEIU Local 1021, 700 members of the IFPE, and some 50 members of the local IBEW will form picket lines around various Oakland and BerkeleyCity buildings beginning at 7 am for a one-day strike. The strike is intended to serve as a warning to Oakland and Berkeley City Counsels to begin bargaining in good faith or face an indefinite shut down beginning July 8. Union leaders have emphasized that public safety will not be compromised during the strike as it will ensure that police, fire and animal services will be sufficiently staffed to provide emergency services.
Union leaders have reported that neither the BART Board of Directors, nor the Cities of Oakland and Berkeley have bargained in good faith during the several months leading up to the strikes. Citing provisions in California law, these leaders say that management is attempting to maneuver toward declaring an impasse in the negotiations so that binding arbitration can be used to impose contract conditions that will continue to attack employee wages and benefits. Union negotiators also are reporting that management is not sending decisions-makers to the negotiations but merely submitting proposals that are clearly intended to frustrate negotiations, and point out that management can no longer claim austerity as an excuse as detailed analysis of the BART, Oakland, and Berkeley budgets show surpluses.
In contrast to earlier job actions, the unions have coordinated their strategies and carefully cultivated community support. While not striking, many other unions, such as the Teamsters and the ILWU have pledged to support the strikers and not cross picket lines, as have many of the smaller unions, such as UNITE Here and Local 2. These pledges have been match by community groups, such as ANSWER and the Justice for Alan Blueford Coalition, who will be joining the picket lines in solidarity with their union sisters and brother. If they happen, the pending strikes will be the largest and most powerful demonstration of union power since the 1946 general strike that brought AlamedaCounty to a standstill as strikers successfully fought the use of police as strikebreakers.
* Darrell Whitman is editorial board member of the Journal of Global Faultlines.