Reforming the Bay Area Rapid Transit System: Put Commuters First, Not Unions
Residents of the Bay Area were abruptly reminded in July 2013 of the power that unions and special interests groups hold in the Bay Area’s prominent transportation system when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers went on strike for more than two weeks. The BART system, the nation’s fifth largest of its kind, serves 400,000 riders each day.
The BART strike cost the region more than $73 million in worker productivity alone. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute said that this cost, which does not include the cost of overall lost economic activity, placed an undue burden on the region’s economy by delaying hundreds of thousands of BART commuters.
In addition to the economic strain caused by the BART strikes, the environmental impact was equally burdensome. The Bay Area Council estimated that increased traffic congestion during BART strikes last year generated about 16 million pounds of carbon, and wasted nearly 800,000 gallons of gas every day at a cost of almost $3.3 million. What’s more, the unions supporting the BART strikes are the same special interests groups supporting a new proposed gas tax on consumers that I spoke about recently in a press release. Specifically, the proposal would place a carbon tax on gasoline that would put a price on the pollution that causes climate change. Ironically, this proposal is said to combat the same kind of pollution that was caused by the BART strikes.
The SF Gate has highlighted my opponent's, (Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski) “nearly perfect score on union-backed legislation.” Should Wieckowski continue his “nearly perfect” support of union-backed legislation, California consumers will almost certainly have the proposed gas tax enacted into law. It seems hypocritical to call yourself a champion of a clean environment while jumping at the chance to support the shutdown of one of the best protectors of the environment we have, public transportation.
The BART strike also caused public safety concerns. Police response time was delayed as a result of the traffic congestion caused by the BART strikes. As such, crime increased during the BART strikes.
Equally important, education was significantly impacted by the strike. Thousands of teachers in the Bay Area were either delayed or forced to miss full class days due to traffic congestion caused by the strike. This has a net effect not only on the teachers and their salaries, but more importantly, on the children who are taught by these teachers. The unions fought at any cost to achieve their demands. Unfortunately, that cost resulted in hundreds of students not being taught in the classroom each day.
Highlighted by SF Gate as one of the most active elected participants in the BART strike lobbying efforts, Bob Wieckowski reportedly took his lobbying efforts to the front door of BART board member Tom Blalock’s door one late night during the BART strikes, scaring Blalock’s wife “half out of her wits.” Blalock reported that Wieckowski startled his wife at such a late hour that his wife’s blood pressure spiked to unprecedented levels. Blalock and others shared similar concerns about Wieckowski’s methods and reasoning behind lobbying union-backed initiatives that harm communities.
Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrat-controlled legislature in Sacramento have continued to support the BART unions that placed the Bay Area economy in shackles for weeks. As a candidate for State Senate I have repeatedly condemned the BART strikes and calls for a transit system that puts commuters first. Unions are undermining the very purpose for which BART was created in 1961 – to provide a cost-effective transportation system that enables residents of the region to quickly commute to their place of employment or other desired locations. There is nothing cost-effective about a transit system that costs the region’s economy millions of dollars every decade. I pledge to fight for commuters against the power of unions. Bay Area residents cannot afford to allow BART workers from holding our communities hostage again.
It is important to highlight that last year’s BART strike was certainly not the first. In fact, there have been six occasions since BART’s inception that the region has been forced to adhere to the demands of BART unions. During each of these periods – a combination of strikes and negotiations – the region’s economy suffered irreparable damage by the threat of transportation being shut down to communities.
According to the transit agency, BART workers represented by unions, including more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff, now average over $70,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions. Bay Area municipalities and communities cannot continue to agree to terms that it cannot afford. We do not need a union controlled transit system. We need a transit system with transparency, common sense, and most importantly, a system that puts commuters first.