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Transit in San Francisco—never easy—was hit Monday morning by the beginning of a strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers belonging to two unions, the SEIU and the Amalgamated Transit Union. At issue are the basics: pay raises, pensions and health care.
[BART spokesman Rick] Rice said BART's latest proposal offers a 2 percent annual raise, up from its initial proposal of 1 percent. The latest proposal, compared with the previous proposal, also reduces the amount that the district would require employees to begin contributing to pensions and to pay toward health insurance premiums. Rice said the proposal would mean a raise for every union employee.
Union officials disagreed. Part of the raise BART offered in the latest proposal is contingent, they said, on factors ranging from ambitious ridership increases and sales tax revenues to reductions in the number of employees seeking Family Medical Leave Act absences. Many employees would lose money every year, union officials said.
"On the surface it looks like a raise," Bryant said. "But it's not really a raise. It certainly leaves us in the red—3 to 4 percent lower than our wages now."
It's been five years since these workers had a raise, and they've made major concessions in recent years. Another of the Bay Area's transit systems may begin its own strike as early as Tuesday.
These moments highlight the way both workers and public transit are devalued in the United States—even in liberal San Francisco. These workers keep cities running. They are responsible for the safety of hundreds of thousands of passengers. They have to deal with your occasional naked man on a rampage. And yet they're earning in the low $60,000's plus overtime in one of the most expensive cities in the country, they haven't had a raise in five years, and they're being forced to go on strike for the raises they deserve and to protect their pensions.