An ugly drama is playing out as the most powerful leftist union in the country is signaling its intention to paralyze the transit backbone of San Francisco Bay Area travel by striking BART, possibly for an extended period, devastating air quality and selling out the progressive coalition allies, environmentalists.
Two unions, the SEIU and the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union, represent 2200 blue collar workers at the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Of the two, the SEIU is the more powerful, as a heavy funder and source of organizational manpower for the Democratic Party and lead dog in the unions' drive into the government sector. 'The current 30 day pause in the strike they began July 1st suddenly looms closer, and negotiations are not going well. Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury-News reports:
As anger from BART workers bubbled over during a public showdown Thursday, management and unions were set to return to the bargaining table Friday for the first time since the workers' strike was temporarily halted.
More than a dozen union workers lashed out at the BART Board of Directors during its regular meeting and vowed to shut down the rail line again if they don't reach a deal before their 30-day contract extension expires Aug. 4.
"We will be prepared for the war that you all have launched on your workforce," Roxanne Sanchez, president of the local Service Employees International Union, told the board. Unless the agency changes its stance at the negotiation table, she said, "We will be prepared for the bloodiest, longest strike since the 1970s," when a labor dispute shut down BART for three months in 1979.
During the tense 3½-hour meeting in Oakland, other workers cursed, accused BART management of "not giving a crap" about them, charged the directors with "acting like children" and demanded that the agency fire its chief negotiator.
Rhetoric like "bloodiest, longest strike" certainly signals hardball. The unions are intent on scoring big for their members, demanding more than 5% increases in wages each year for the next 4 years. At a time when riders and taxpayers are not experiencing guaranteed growth in their incomes, the unions want to get ahead of the inflation rate and live larger. They can make life very unpleasant for the public, and the deal they in essence offer the public is basically blackmail. Pay up or face endless traffic jams on the bridges and freeways and the resulting air pollution that will follow.
This ought to be seen for what it is: a slap in the face for the legions of environmentalists that inhabit the Bay Area. No question about it, the local air quality will be degraded, and on those occasions when atmospheric conditions trap the pollutants instead of blowing them into the hapless Central Valley as happens most of the time, it will get ugly. In a normal official Spare the Air Day, people are advised to leave their cars home and take transit. But that will be a bad joke if SEIU's rhetoric turns into reality.
Because the demands they make are not terribly defensible in the public sphere, the strategy is to demonize management in populist terms, the classic class warfare knee jerk of the hard left. Not surprising, given the SEIU's status as the richest organization of the hard left.
So millions of Bay Area residents may well see the quality of their lives declining, as the air smogs up and backyard barbecues are prohibited on Spare the Air Days.
The public salvo fired from the unions amps up their new strategy, launched this week, to place the spotlight on top BART executives' six-figure salaries. In recent weeks, many Bay Area residents have criticized blue-collar workers for striking while demanding large raises when their average gross pay is already nearly $80,000 and they contribute nothing toward their pensions.
Moreover, BART is going to have to spend 10 figures on new rolling stock in the coming years, because the majority of its fleet dates from the 70s when the system opened, and are at the end of their useful life. In turn, that will relieve some of the maintenance burden the system now bears keeping the aged cars in shape, which might even affect the need for union jobs.
The SEIU has its own reasons for wanting to strike long and bloody, though. It has seen its power weaken. For a political force that wants to increase its clout nationally, this is unacceptable. California's SEIU suffered a major defeat last year in the Supreme Court and struggling to recover. The major media gave the earthquake the SEIU suffered much attention, so it fell to American Thinker and a few other outlets to explain the significance. In SCOTUS Derails the Democrats' SEIU Gravy Train, Edward H. Stewart explained:
In 2005, the California SEIU's political power was seriously threatened by two ballot initiatives. Proposition 75 called for the union to obtain "affirmative consent" before imposing special assessments for political purposes. That was meant to prevent union abuses, since under such an "opt-in" rule, no money can be taken without the express consent of the employee. There would be no more "opt-out" chicanery such as "We'll take your money unless you tell us not to within thirty days," or a demand that the employee fill out some mind-boggling form to avoid being assessed. Proposition 76 posed a different threat: it gave the governor power to cut spending by reducing public employee compensation. To fund its $10-million political battle against these ballot propositions, the SEIU issued a special assessment demanding that all employees -- including non-members -- pony up the extra cash.
Unfortunately for the SEIU, not all non-members were obedient sheep. Some not only complained; some workers took the union to court. And they won. The District Court issued a summary judgment in their favor based on the stark reality that there was only one purpose for the union's extraordinary spending, and that purpose was political[ii]. That might seem like a no-brainer; but right on cue, the high priests of social justice over at the Ninth Circuit reversed on appeal. And then something really interesting happened: the employees petitioned the Supreme Court, the Court agreed to hear the case, and...the SEIU tried to dodge the constitutional bullet by refunding the assessment and claiming that since nobody was out a dime, the case was moot. Close, but no cigar. Alito wryly observed that "[s]uch postcertiorari maneuvers designed to insulate a decision from review by this Court must be viewed with a critical eye" because "a dismissal for mootness would permit a resumption of the challenged conduct as soon as the case is dismissed" [iii].
What happened instead was a well-deserved disaster for public employee unions and the Democratic Party they brag they own. Predictably, Alito's opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy, held that the SEIU had violated non-members' First Amendment rights by forcing them to fund its political operations against their will. That's bad for the SEIU, and it's bad for the Democrats, because it threatens the political alchemy lab where they turn tax dollars into public employee salaries, salaries into union dues, and union dues into lavish spending on Democratic campaigns. But it gets worse. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg broke ranks with the progressives, supporting the majority decision in a concurrence by Sotomayor. Only Justices Breyer and Kagan toed the party line.
But there was far worse news still to come for the public employee unions and the Democratic Party. The SEIU's brazen abuse of the "opt-out" system raised a question quite similar to the one posed by their attempt to moot the case by returning non-members' money:
Once it is recognized, as our cases have done, that a non-member cannot be forced to fund a union's political or ideological activities, what is the justification for putting the burden on the non-member to opt out of making such a payment?[iv]
This is not simply a matter of inconveniencing non-members.
An opt-out system creates a risk that the fees paid by nonmembers will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree.[v]
The majority has now ventured where progressives refuse to tread. It is not enough to give lip service to First Amendment rights; the processes by which those rights are protected must be adequate to the task.
Needless to say, the media are not interested in the progressive internecine warfare big labor is undertaking here. During the brief strike, which was nothing more than a taste of what could follow, meteoroligist and KSFO morning host (and AT contibutor) Brian Sussman noted on air that the authorities refrained from declaring Spare the Air Days, despite conditions that merited them.
Hat tip: jgrig563