BART Strike: Waiting For A Deal...Or Waiting For A Strike

As negotiations between BART and its unions continue, the whole scene resembles a Samuel Beckett play.

BART station

A businessman enters the gate at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland, California.  BART is in the midst of a long-running contract dispute, of which strikes have been repeatedly delayed.  (Image Source: AP)

In the San Francisco Bay Area, commuters are feeling a great sense of paralysis and anxiety as the management of Bay Area Rapid Transit, the largest public transit system in the region, and its unions, negotiate a new labor contract.  Talks have gone back and forth and stalled repeatedly over the last few months since the labor unions, led by the ATU Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021, conducted a strike that last 4 and a half days.  However, the anxiety, along with the possible economic and social damage, increased as California Governor Jerry Brown's mandated cooldown period ended last week, with the unions repeatedly delaying a strike, the most recent delay last night.  It's all turning into Samuel Beckett's seminal play Waiting for Godot, with Godot being any sort of result from these talks, be it a strike or a contract deal.

While we have gone over the events leading up to the BART strike previously, what is clear is that every time a cooling off period or an extension longer than 24 hours has been applied, it has given an excuse for both sides in the contract dispute to just sit about, not talk to the other side (let alone negotiate), and market their side of the narrative to the general public.  First, the BART unions agreed to a month-long extension of the old contract, and when that expired, Governor Jerry Brown invoked his 60-day cooldown period, which some say he did too soon.  The cooldown ended Friday, which led to the unions sending out their 72-hour notice to strike, leading to today's paralysis.  During these times, both sides did not talk until the last possible minute, repeating the previous pattern.  Last night's 24 hour extension to the strike deadline did not happen until 12:58 AM, just as the last train entered the Transbay Tube to San Francisco. no doubt frazzling every person who had to get up early in the morning (including yours truly, who live-tweeted the livestream of the event).

Of course, as with any play or drama*, things tend to turn chaotic hairy when we approach a conclusion, and such is the case here:  There are nearly 60 people representing BART and the unions combined at the negotiating table.  Every federal mediator that is not furloughed is with both sides of the contract dispute right now, along with several state lawmakers and even Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.  Polls vary, but the consensus is that people want this dispute to end. 

Now, there is a plot twist:  The unions representing AC Transit, a bus system covering Oakland, Berkeley, and surrounding town, gave their 72-hour notice to strike on Monday following the rejection of two contract offers, and a strike for them is very likely to occur October 17.  The July BART strike alone was damaging enough, but AC Transit served as a mostly reliable backup for people traveling to and from San Francisco.  If BART and AC Transit struck at the same time, the San Francisco Bay Area would face a giant mess of a catastrophe, since most commuters will not have a way to head into San Francisco.

Coincidentally, October 17 is also the day when the United States federal government reaches its arbitrary borrowing limit, also known as the debt ceiling.  Barring a miracle or aggressive action in all cases, you may want to place your money on a minor apocalypse in San Francisco happening on October 17.  Still, people do not want to wait anymore:  Either a BART strike happens, or it does not.  No more waiting, no more "you'll have an answer tomorrow.'

*Well, Samuel Beckett's plays tend not to do that, but details

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