Strikebusting by transit
bosses kills two workers
Bay Area Rapid Transit pressed
scab training at expense of safety
Picket line at Bay Area Rapid Transit terminal in Oakland, Calif., Oct. 18, during four-day strike.
BY JEFF POWERS
SAN FRANCISCO — Two employees of Bay Area Rapid Transit were killed Oct. 19 by bosses’ reckless drive to get trains running in the midst of a four-day strike by 2,300 station agents, train operators, clerical workers, mechanics and maintenance workers over company demands for substantial work rule changes.
The walkout ended Oct. 21 when BART and officials from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 155 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 announced a tentative agreement. Its details have not yet been released. Workers will soon vote on the pact.
Laurence Daniels, 66, a contractor, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993 were struck by a train and killed while inspecting track in Walnut Creek, Calif. AFSCME Local 3993 organizes supervisors, technicians and other salaried employees and was not part of the walkout. According to the Local 3993 website, the majority of its members chose not to cross the ATU and SEIU picket lines. The two had years of railroad experience.
The train — operated by management personnel who were training a new operator during the strike — was on automatic pilot barreling down the tracks at 60 to 70 miles per hour.
“BART from the beginning tried to cover up the fact that this was a scab-training train, aimed at performing union work, and now two families have to live with BART’s decision,” Charles Duran, a seven-year train operator in the Hayward, Calif., yard, told the Militant.
BART has “two sets of safety standards, one for us and one for them,” said Duran. “They ignored the safety training that workers receive and took a short cut, costing two people their lives.”
“People picketing at the El Cerrito Norte station were very angry when we heard about the deaths,” Shirley Peña, a BART train operator in the Richmond, Calif., yard, said in a phone interview Oct. 22. “It showed BART’s callous disregard for safety.”
BART had been pressing to give management the ability to assign workers to any yard on a given day and more flexibility in setting work hours, workers said.
During the strike, the big-business press here tried whipping up popular sentiment against the strikers and their union with editorial commentary and quote after quote from people focusing their irritations over inconveniences they say are caused by the workers.
The union’s “objections resemble the complaints of a medieval guild,” the Oct. 18 San Francisco Chronicle said, “so accustomed to the ancient methods that its members can’t see the worth of change or flexibility.”
“The BART board of directors is at fault,” said BART train operator Steve Perocier at the picket line outside the El Cerrito del Norte station Oct. 18 where pickets received a supportive response from many passersby. “They don’t care about the ridership or the employees.”
Workers at BART — the fifth-busiest transit system in the U.S. handling nearly 400,000 riders per day — had organized a four-and-a-half-day strike at the beginning of July. That action ended when transit worker unions agreed to return to work for 30 days while the two sides resumed negotiations. After the 30-day period ended Aug. 11 and no settlement had been reached, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown was granted a court order for a 60-day “cooling off” period, imposing a strike injunction on the unions through Oct. 10.
BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Militant Oct. 23 she cannot answer questions or comment on the workers’ deaths.
“This is a tragic day in BART’s history,” BART’s General Manager Grace Crunican said on its website Oct. 19.
“We are fighting for everyone,” striking electrician Kit Decker told the Militant Oct. 20 at a union-organized vigil for the two workers. “We want respect for workers everywhere, union or nonunion.”
Bill Kalman from Richmond, Calif., contributed to this article.
On the Picket Line