What The BART Strike Tells Us About The Government Shutdown Deal (Hint: It Does Not End)

While the government has ended its shutdown, BART continues to face the threat of a strike. There are more scary parallels to this than one would think.

Senator Mitch McConnell

Senator Mitch McConnell talks to a reporter yesterday while preparing to present a deal to end the government shutdown.  (Image Source:  Reuters)

This morning, the federal government reopened for business, after a last-minute bipartisan deal from the Senate ended the shutdown and prevented the country from entering default.  However, the deal is only temporary:  The government will keep running until January 15, while the arbitrary debt ceiling has been "raised" so that the government reaches its borrowing limit on February.  Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay Area, a transit apocalypse has been averted, with unions representing BART, the area's primary public transit system, giving another 24 hour extension before they would strike.  The two events are worlds apart, but the basic problem they present is very similar:  Everything is temporary, and the crises do not end.

We have gone over the situation with the BART union negotiations repeatedly, but one thing that has been only lightly addressed is the negotiating tactics of both the BART management and the unions, led by SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555.  In essence, negotiations rarely have happened up until the last possible minute, when there is little time for wiggle room and progress.  Negotiations for contracts of any kind, especially ones of this nature, tend to be long and drawn out, so that everyone gets something out of it. 

Depending on how you view the situation, the unions' hand was forced when they struck and shut down BART in July, before an extension and a cool-down period ended that.  But even when those two events occurred, neither management nor the unions got to the table until the closing days of each deadline.  One could argue that the unions keep extending the deadline not because their hand is weak, but because it is the only thing that will keep BART management at the table.  That the unions essentially need to keep pushing the deadline just to keep negotiations going represents a big problem in this situation.

One could say the same thing about the government shutdown.  House Republicans did not send out a resolution to keep the government open until September 20.  Lobbying and negotiations in Congress only began in earnest about a week later, far too late to really stop anything.  Once the shutdown occurred, negotiations for a deal to raise the debt ceiling took about a week to start, with serious negotiations only beginning a few days before the debt ceiling deadline of October 17.

The deal that ended the government shutdown calls for real budget talks, with a deadline of December 15.  Given that this is a temporary solution, if history is of any indication, Congress will not be talking for some time.  In fact, they will likely wait, again, until after Thanksgiving to begin budget talks.  They will miss their deadline on the budget, and cause yet another government crisis.  Whether this will lead to another shutdown, and another looming threat of default, and possibly another temporary solution that just kicks the can further down the road.  And the beat goes on.

Crises like these require a permanent solution, or one that kicks the can so far down the road that we do not need to worry about it for an election cycle.  Say, four years.  Otherwise, the anxiety we face just becomes so large that we end up acting like the guy below.


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