The BART Strike is Not Just About Wages…There’s Bigger Things At Stake

Cindy Chew 6/28/05 A BART train pulls into West Oakland station on Tuesday.Today BART is on Strike and in usual fare the media is shaping the debate to be BART workers who are ‘well paid’ vs riders who are struggling.. That’s the narrative… Here’s a few things to keep in mind..

1-The average wage ratio between CEO and workers around the world is 10-1, maybe 12-1 which is considered high.. In the US the average ratio is 319-1 and growing.. It’s a simple equation of the rich get rich and poor get poorer.. That sets the condition for animosity to be directed at fellow workers who kick up dust to get better wages or for the average person to care very little if striking workers get replaced.. Why? because everyone is stressed out and living on the edge with little or no job security..

2-To those who feel BART workers get ‘too much’.. what does that mean? They make more than you hence they shouldn’t get what they feel they deserve? What wage would make it ok strike? 10k? 20k? 30k? 40k? Do we express similar concerns about high six figured executives who are not directly servicing you who have demanded they get paid or have raised fares on you to make sure they are well compensated?

I saw folks running around last month complaining that workers at fast food joints shouldn’t be asking for 15 bucks an hour, that somehow they were greedy.. even as those places make billions a year..Whats an ok wage for 40 year old working at fast food joint when they can no longer get work? 10 an hour even as it is being shown one needs to be on public assistance to make ends meet at such a low salary? The overwhelming majority of new jobs added to the economy in the past 5 years have been low wage 7.25 hour jobs..The goal is to get all of us happily working at such wages.

I would encourage folks to peep this report to get a better understanding of whats jumping off.

I seen folks complaining about a BART strike not complain that Congress was getting wage increases while voting to cut wages and benefit packages to their underpaid staffers who do all the work, read the bills, make recommendations on votes etc.. Last week during the shutdown Congress voted to strip their staffers of benefits..Would they be greedy if they went on strike, or are we happy they don’t have a union to protect them, thanks to Congress voting to prohibit that??

Far too many have been silent when there were calls to protest executives getting wage increases while fares were being raised, many declined to join those protests or do a people’s strike..

3-The media narrative has been to interview people and paint a story of how the average commuter is inconvenienced by the ‘evil BART workers’ who are striking… Now corporate owned news outlets are running around with cameras in hand asking how you feel..Now they are expressing concern.. This is the same news outlet that went nowhere near an unemployment office, WIC lines or into your poor neighborhood to ask how you felt when the government was shut down for the past two weeks..

These are the same media outlets who never came around to ask how you were inconvenienced when BART fares went up last year, the year before and the year before that, when there were no BART strikes and executives were getting raises..

These same outlets were nowhere to be seen asking about your hardships when BART increased daily parking rates to go along with your increased fares.. Some parking lots charge 5 bucks a day in poor neighborhoods like West Oakland while remaining damn near free in rich neighborhoods… Lets talk about that..

4-Last BART strike I personally witnessed reporters running trying to egg on commuters to speak out against BART workers.. They had a rough go of it.. They were frustrated because while the BART strike was unnerving many poorer workers understood and didn’t trip.. You wouldn’t know that from the coverage..In one instance one of the reporters from KRON actually asked if they was anyone angry with BART workers..

This time around almost all the news outlets are doing coverage in affluent communities like Walnut Creek where parking is $1.50 a day vs $5 in West Oakland. I guess they are hoping to find commuters who will fit the ‘Unions suck, Bart workers are greedy narrative’…

Tom Hock BART's lead negotiator

Tom Hock BART’s lead negotiator

Make no mistake about what’s going here.. The end game for BART executives is to break the union and limit workers rights..This is why the lead negotiator Tom Hock who makes 400k a year in tax payer money, not counting 50k in expenses, and not even a Bay Area resident, went on vacation for two weeks in the middle of negotiations.

Last week in the 11th hour he bounced out-of-town to do a speaking gig in Southern Cali on ‘how to negotiate a deal’.. He was brought in to bust up the union not work things out..Remember the money concerns were agreed upon by the union.. They agreed to the offer…. the sticking point was the Hock and his team inserting language that would prevent BART workers from striking.. When BART unions pushed to have this taken to arbitration, BART management refused.. That’s called union busting..

Busting unions is not limited to BART, this has been going on all over the country.. We are seeing that where ever there are public sector unions which are comprised of people of color, then the attacks are all out to shut it down.. That ranges from the postal unions to public transit unions to teacher unions etc.. Let the media outlets cover that.. Let the media ask why so many POC are even in those unions and the long history and continued practice of discrimination in many private sectors.

Let’s note the ‘greedy workers shouldn’t be striking’ narrative has not been applied to screen writers, actor guild and even SAG/ AFTRA members which many news reporters covering the BART strike are a part, even when they did work slowdowns or went on strike while holding down million dollar salaries..

We seem to have given sports teams a pass, Hockey, Football, Basketball, Baseball etc.. all who have gone on strike in spite them making millions..More people attend the games than ever before, even with high-priced, tickets, high cable and TV bills and out of this world tax payer stadium costs, to watch the teams etc.. Folks didn’t stop wearing their football jerseys talking about greedy players .. why? because they understand these owners make billions..

Fast Food Worker strikeHowever last summer when concession workers who don’t get benefits and barely and made 10 bucks an hour went on strike, we heard the ‘workers are greedy narrative pop up..

All of us should be fighting to make sure workers of every stripe have job security, living wages and safe conditions on their jobs.. If the conditions at your workplace are lousy, no benefits, wack wages and a tyrannical bosses, you should be asking how can those conditions change?

Instead of getting upset about workers striking ask yourself why your boss is making you come to work vs telecommute, or allowing you flex time or making accommodations so you can park your car? Many employers have not made such moves..why? Because they have invested in a business culture and ethos that wants to bash on workers and keep them on edge as a way to get you to accept lower wages and messed up work conditions for fear of you losing your job..


  1. my thoughts a few days ago, responding to the Atlantic (almost) hit piece:

  2. Great writeup. Thank you for taking the time to break this down.

  3. Jenifer Hope says:

    I’m happy to see one media outlet publishing from the workers’ point-of-view. BART workers make a living wage, and they are not asking for a lavish raise. They simply want to maintain the bare minimum they need to raise a family in the Bay Area. Bashing workers for wanting a decent (not decadent) wage is wrong. Thank you for calling out other media outlets for doing just that.

    Full disclosure: I am a member of IBEW Local 1245.

    Jenifer Hope

  4. The total compensation of the GM last year was apparently $334,000 plus change; the average line employee compensation was apparently $76,550. That’s a ratio of closer to 4.5:1 than 12:1 or even 319:1.

    Total exec compensation last year was apparently $3.4 million. Total employee compensation was $380 million.

    If 99% of wages go to non-executives…

    • This is because they have a union. The high ratios come from non union shops. Also what isa GM. I’m guessing hes not the CEO. Nobody is arguing that they aren’t paid well. The argument in this article is that there is nothing wrong with that and wanting to maintain that.

  5. This article is not informative as it attempts to be. There are clear issues at stake, and most of what is discussed is simply blaming business and the media in a general sense.

    Also many of the distinctions made in the article fall flat, like the difference in parking price between West Oakland and Walnut Creek. There are incredibly clear reasons as to why that is, namely that it is the last station before SF and is essentially the Hub for every train in and out. Parking is more expensive because it is more in demand, and has nothing to do with the residents of west oakland. It is much less likely that an individual who lives in West Oakland is going to park there. Parking is in incredible demand there, evidenced by the numerous lots that charge anywhere from $5-10+ dollars a day to just park there.

    Workers rights, fair wages are great goals, but I think what the article misses the biggest point of is that the frustration of commuters is not actually being directed at the amount BART employees are paid, but at the resulting inconvenience they are given as a result of a strike. People, from all ranges of pay grade, job type and more commute into the city and rely on BART to get there. For many, driving and parking in the city is not an option, but they are still obligated to find some way there. I realize the article attempts to address this issue by placing blame on employers for requiring attendance, but is that a realistic suggestion? Not every job can telecommute, and the simple assumption of this just supports the reasoning that the author does not really understand much of this.

    For all these reasons and more, I think this article is more uninformative than informative.


  6. people were angry when fees went up and they were angry when they found out the execs raised fees to give themselves raises and not make improvements to BART. Just because the media didn’t aggressively cover it, doesn’t mean people weren’t upset then

  7. As a union member I thank you for putting it out there so honestly unlike other media.

  8. We need to talk more about the “work rules” issue and how exactly it would lead to union busting. This is a great write-up. Thank you!

  9. Nailed it!
    Add to this the fact that middle & lower income people have lost influence on politicians & the media while billionaires are free to buy power. Unions are what we have left & big money is trying its best to lessen our members.

    I’m a nurse & I think the next battleground will be with healthcare workers. Do you know that all the major health care systems are CUTTING staff by attrition & layoffs? What happens when thousands more people have insurance next year?

    I say keep up the good fight BART workers!

  10. Keep us posted

  11. Tora Spigner says:

    As a member of CNA, I understand why the BART workers are striking. Big business is out to make more and more money, having just endured 9 strikes against my employer, Sutter Health. Yes, I make good money but it is only because nurses before me, with the help of our union, have struck, and bargained and worked for decent wages for a job where we can work 8-16 hours and have your life in our hands! I want a nurse that is well paid and well rested at my bedside, I also want whomever is driving my BART train, cab or bus to be well paid and well rested, so they can do their job and do their job well. There is no reason management and CEO’s need to make millions off the backs of their customers and workers!

  12. Umm…. a six digit working wage at that, plus a health care and a retirement program that is driving BART into the poor hour. Just like PERS is here in Oregon. That said, I am OK with a 1 per cent a year increase, possibly even a two percent increase…. if the works would pick up half their insurance costs, and live off of SS rather than the lavish pension plan they get.

  13. I think what you are missing in your sports / corporations comparison is the fact that neither of those scenarios DIRECTLY AFFECT workers in other industries’ ability to get to and from their jobs. Very rarely will an athlete striking or a hotel strike affect the ability for those not directly in those industries to do their jobs.

    I’ve just moved to Oakland from SF, and I know how difficult it can be to make ends meet in the bay area, but the question of a strike being necessary to ensure a living wage is laughable. I’m in tech and I would love to be making what most of these employees are (

    Ask the thousands of service professionals who commute every day (increasingly from areas like West Oakland). See if they think this strike won’t have a direct affect on them. It will, both currently and in 3-6 months when BART announces rate increases, which will happen as a direct result of this.

    If you honestly believe that this is about media bias and breaking a union, I think you’re misguided. The bay area is still a hotbed for progressive poilitcs, but even far left political support of unions wane when they no longer connect to reality (see: UAW in Detroit).

  14. You touch on many issues here. From the bart strike, then the government shutdown , then the evils of corporations. I feel this could’ve been stronger if you would’ve spent more of the time flushing out the bart workers position. Also you talk about the rises in cost for fair and parking, but if the workers do get these increases in pay won’t the bart fairs go up again? With that said, many low income use bart as a means of transportation, so if prices do go up will that not hAve a more severe effect on the low income community?
    No doubt the are man injustices, but using the bart strike to tackle and lump in those injustices doesn’t seem right. I mean if that’s the cAse, let’s talk about teachers wages and benefits.

  15. Robert Barnahrt says:

    Thank you for a concise, on point message. i have been a mechanic and union memeber at BART for 24 years. In that time I have been greatly disappointed at the 4th estate and their obvious anti-labor spin, but now find the internet as a sanctuary for alternate opinons. I would have assumed, incorrectly, that a news organization would love to tell a story about reasonable workers who gave the district “efficiencies” to address archaic work rules in 2005, then gave back 100 milion dollars in consessions and took no raises when the country’s economy cratered, on the 2009 contract and now agreed to all the district’s financial offers this contract cycle and are only balking at safety and beneficial practice language that in some cases not only protects the workers, but the riders as well. Keep up the good work and thanks again for putting our side out there for your readers.

  16. Wisdom incarnate says:

    I feel you with the fact that they are working class and deserve a raise. What I don’t understand being a POC as you state is how most these station agents treat their people. When it comes to my experiences they always give me a hard time and are extremely rude to me as if they think the only reason I talk to them is to get a free ride. What you have to understand is bart is a private business. That’s why it cost so much. Of course it cost 1.30 compared to 5 dollars parking in walnut creek compared to the latter because west Oakland is prime real estate. Compare 15 to 20 minutes jus to make it to west Oakland completed to the 7 minutes it takes to get to downtown SF. Time is money that’s understandable from a business point of view, the problem I have is honestly the Bart employee’s do a mediocre job. People in the food and hospitality and retail business work like slaves trust me and there isn any union to represent them. We need to worry about the real hard workers instead of the people are Doin a simple job.

  17. Congress is corrupt because we as voters let them get away with it…most voters hate congress as a whole, yet repeatedly vote the same congressperson in year after year (all while expecting different results). We have nobody but ourselves to blame for that. But I disagree with the strike…the BART workers want too much too soon…we simply can’t afford it. I understand that the unions gave us weekend and the 40 hour work-week. But that accomplishment alone does not give them free license to do demand whatever they want whenever they want for whatever reason forever. Unions can want too much too. How much is too much? Is it possible for unions to become corrupt and demand too much? If we give them whatever they want, it will hurt society as a whole. We have to balance needs.

    • Ta'wan'da Gibbons says:

      You stupid! Working class be taken advantage and shit by greedy ass CEOs!! Rich people always trying a take more money and steal! George Bush be cozzing this! Damn Shit on the church!

  18. This article is very one sided! Totally inaccurate information:

    Example: It’s asking in a big chunk where were he news outlet when the Govt shut down to ask you how you felt…. none of that has to do with how we personally feel about BART. Secondly I live right on the same block as Colma BART. Colma is one of the wealthiest towns in California because of it’s size yet they charge for parking at their lot and it’s not $1.50. It used to be free a long time ago. The article says that BART charges West Oakland 5 bucks but rich neighborhoods are free. What are all the rich neighborhoods that have a BART station I ask? They mention Walnut Creek? Okay sure… does the article mention that each county, town, city charges BART their own tax? Hence the reason why it costs so damn much for me to get to SFO from Colma when it’s cheaper for me to go to Walnut Creek. It also asks what we mean by the workers getting ‘too much’ pay… well it’s plain and simple. We all deserve what we are worth but if anyone should start to complain it should be those who DO NOT make 80-90k a year, get $99 Healthcare and don’t pay into their pension plan. Realistically these workers forget the FACT that many folks in SF roommate together and make maybe half that a year w no benefits or even healthcare and now those people will have to find a different way to cross the bridge to get to work. Very thoughtful they are.

  19. Thank you for speaking the TRUTH, Davey D. This article encourages thinking “outside the box” and by that I mean the TV box! Please stop relying on Corp media news soundbites for your information! Get the facts, they are out there, but you need to do the research. Ask any BART worker, they’ll give you the straight talk.

  20. The picture says it all – “Dignity and a living wage”.
    Most BART workers DO make a living wage, w/good health benefits and overtime to boot. I can’t comment on some of the technical skills required to work BART maintenance, but sitting in a booth and being the least helpful person on the planet is not worthy of 100k+. There’s a tone of entitlement to this issue, the kind of thing you can only get away with in a place like San Francisco. If the city doesn’t put a stop to it soon, I’m pretty certain we can expect much of the same in the coming years.

  21. so, as the title suggests, what are the “bigger things” you think are at stake here?

  22. Like radiation fallout from Fukushima.

  23. Bill Gottlieb says:

    Thanks for the worker’s side – from former NYC bus driver

  24. Stop using the ellipsis (….) when you write. You over-used it over the entire article and it makes you look very like an amateur, sophomoric writer who has no idea what it’s for of how to use it.

    • Xavier its a blog, not a newspaper… Its a conversation.. Its how I write which is understood by most…Ur free to bounce to another site where they conform to a style you prefer… Thanks

  25. Dion Good says:

    Good points, but work on your English.

  26. Perhaps when the BART employees are making 1%er income you commies will finally stop backing their theft. Oh wait, many of them already do make that much.

    These are the highest paid transit employees in the US (world?). They make over $80,000 a year + overtime + benefits including health care and retirement. Many of those “only” making around $80-90K are actually making $200,000+ with benefits not counted in their base pay. So the real average is even higher.

    They are making DOUBLE the median income of the BAY AREA so no excuse about cost of living. The majority of bay area residents make far less. They are in the top 20% of all income earners in the entire nation, including all CEOs, doctors, etc. Meaning 80% of all humans in the nation make less.

    And they are abusing their positions to shut down trains and prevent free citizens from access to their public transit so they can go to work and make their much smaller paychecks that they in turn have to give part of to keep these overpaid criminals happy.

  27. One does not need to be anti-union or anti-labor to be opposed to the BART unions. You make a sweeping (and unconvincing) general argument here, but conveniently avoided all the specific issues. Healthcare, pensions, wages, work rules. There simply isn’t a compelling (or even defensible) argument to be made that BART employees should be striking. (It’s also illegal.)

    I support rising incomes, wealth equality, and meaningful labor representation. (That is, the kind that isn’t just bought and sold in Sacramento, as is the case with public employee unions in CA.) I also work my ass off to support a family in a private sector job that affords none of the luxuries that BART employees and managers enjoy. I pay my share — $530 per month– for employer-provided healthcare coverage. That’s 6x more than what a BART employee pays. And my premiums go up with more dependent sand with age. BART workers get an incredible flat rate that covers as many dependent as they have. fully fund my 401(k) and retirement — it comes right out of my pocket, not my employer’s. Let’s see… I also don’t get to call in sick on Monday and then collect overtime on Friday. (I don’t have any overtime, actually and often have to work nights and weekends.) I can’t rack up vacation time and cash it out as a huge cash bonus. And I don’t have anything close to the job security that BART workers have. I’m an “at will” employee who has to perform at a high level, always, or else.

    Let’s be clear. I’m not interested in “bashing workers.” I am a worker myself. I support fair labor practice and equality of wealth. I am not strictly anti-union either. But the presumption that BART employees are suffering from anything that could be described as “messed up work conditions” — or wealth inequality for that matter (just read about a $85K BART mechanic who racked up $120K in overtime last year)– is a ridiculous argument, and an insult to taxpayers like myself who are the real ones getting screwed here.

  28. Any writer who writes “I seen…” needs to step away from the computer and pick up a dictionary. Please come back again when you’re ready to use proper English. Thanks.

  29. Thank you for this write up. I was away the past 2 weeks and not seeing news reports, but kept seeing anti-union FB status messages come through. Glad a friend also linked to your article so I could, too.

  30. is this fucking serious? lets pay congress, who have worked their asses of their entire life to get where they are (whether or not u agree w/ their opinions and politics), payed less and lets have people without even so much as a BACHELOR’S degree make more than some with masters.

    weren’t people terrified of the communists not too long ago? what the hell is going on here.

    sorry, I’m not sorry that people who decided to go to school and work their asses off to get where they are get paid more than McDonalds employees. Pretty sure the CEOs work, on average, over 60 hours a week.

    I understand not everyone has the money to go to college, but that doesn’t somehow give them the right to demand higher wages for themselves and lower wages for those that find a way to go. Not everyone who goes to college is a trust fund brat.

    • Indentured servant says:

      ^your missing the point! It’s about everyone having a living wage not just the CEO taking it all and pretending there’s a recession and saying you should be happy with your 10/hr. while he makes 300 times that. You can’t have a heathy economy with no middle class, then were all just wage slaves

    • Loulou. I think you’re missing the point. While degreed workers MIGHT deserve higher pay, it doesn’t mean that non-degreed personnel should get close to nothing. The point is that CEO’s get more at the ratio of 12:1. Also, did you miss the detail on parking lots charging more in poor neighborhoods vs. free in rich neighborhoods? How about that there’s never a protest when higher ups get pay raises, lower downs get none, and rates go up for the end consumer? Did you miss that as well? The point is their is a huge disparity in our country. Let’s not assume that just because a person is a higher up that he/she does a great job either; because it almost always seems implied that when a lower wage employee asks for a raise, that they’re lazy scumbags. Don’t buy into the crap that these controlled media outlets sell. And just because a person has a degree doesn’t make them smarter. There’s plenty of smart people out there who didn’t go to or finish college. I can think of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs. So should they be making minimum wage?

  31. I just can’t agree, bart is a system we all built and pay for, the people who work there deserve to be fairly compensated but their compensation can not be viewed in a vacuum. The system is run as a public trust and it is irresponsible for workers to view both the compensation they receive and the future infrastructure costs as unrelated issues. If the system does not receive the continuing investment it needs then the public trust is token as the system will eventually erode. Bart workers are well compensated by almost any standard, they also have in readable job security, neither of which do I begrudge them, people should be paid a fair wage so they can live in the communities they work in. However their compensation levels are public record, they are very high for the type of work and competency levels required for the work they do. It come across as extremely disingenuous to play the workers of the world unite card, when they take our tax dollars, our fares and our infrastructure investment. My opinion. Also the rider in walnut creek is less entitled to their opinion because they don’t live in west oakland please….

  32. Are you holding my comment for a particular reason?

  33. So what do Bart employees make? All divisions please, as. Do add the benefits to the equation. If you ask me, I’d love to have their job. Even with a masters they make more than me and they don’t have the student loans!

  34. GetSerious says:

    What an incredibly poor written & researched article. 1. No mention that this is a Public Union. This is the reason transit workers aren’t allowed to strike in New York, Boston, and Chicago. 2. There were tons of news stories about the fare increases. Do a Google search. But what you fail to recognize, is that people still had to go to work. They couldn’t boycott BART. 3. People rip pro sports apart when they strike. The difference is, people like sports and don’t like BART or for the most part it’s employees.

    The BART workers rights are going to be limited by themselves. The longer this strike goes on, the greater the likely they will lose the right to strike just like cops and firefighters. Because they misplayed their hand and Public Unions that go on strike, put the public well being in jeopardy.

    • hahaha @getserious.. poorly written?? Looks like I was right about all I said.. Dont u feel dumb?


  36. Rob Ready says:

    Great post. I hadn’t heard that Hock bounced out of town AGAIN.

  37. The complexity of this situation is not so simple. The people in charge certainly are NOT going to take a wage cut (although, arguably, they should) but if wages increase for BART workers, so will the fare of a BART ride. Simple economic demands that the price will be ultimately passed onto the consumer which once again, will raise the cost of living for all of us residing in the bay area…again.

    It’s terrible that our thwarted attempt at rebellion (“occupy wallstreet”), like most movements in life, quickly phased away and not one iota of change was actually brought about from it (in fact it itself turned into a profitable [buy a 99% bumper sticker!] wasteful conundrum.) We know these things – the media does not hide these facts yet WE DO NOTHING ABOUT IT. Apathy is met with lethargy and we are all too busy and consumed by gaining material worth (the next iphone 5 c!) that we really don’t give a shit.

    Nice write up but nothing has changed beyond raising the fare, again. Wake me up when there’s a real revolution.

  38. This is sad.

    The article just turned into a tirade about the inequality of workers in entirely different industries and how CEOs make too much.

    Also, comparing sports team wages to publicly owned transit worker wages? Seems like someone’s just too focused on being an occupy wall street/99% supporter.

    I think CEOs should make less of a ratio than they currently do, but it’s so far fetched to turn this issue into a debate about that. Some of us are not so lucky to have a union guaranteeing wage increases, incredibly cheap healthcare, and specific working conditions. Have you ever considered the high wage of the negotiator is the reason why these workers make 70k+ a year, and have good benefits? Because they can afford a good negotiator?

    • mmmmmm please stop Thomas.. nothing worse than an apologist for things that are outright wrong.. I took PR classes as well and recognize the attempts.. step your game up sir..SMDH


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    The BART Strike is Not Just About Wages…There’s Bigger Things At Stake – Hip-Hop and Politics