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Monday, October 21, 2013

Untied We Stand: The Unraveling of the BART Strike Conversation

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 1:00 PM

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Aside from leaving commuters stranded, what is this BART strike really accomplishing?

What we do know is that it's definitely created momentum among all unions in the Bay Area. Along with a possible AC Transit walkout, there are striking concessionaires at AT&T Park, protesting security guards at Google, an embattled teachers union at City College, and Walmart workers attempting to unionize.

All of this union buzz has gotten public-sector workers' attention, but it's also managed to upset the rest of the working world in the Bay Area, experts say. Other Bay Area employees are angry at the benefits the transit workers are seeking: They see their own wages remaining flat and their work hours increasing while they're left footing the bill for BART workers who are demanding more - a lot more.

Meanwhile, across the country in a far less liberal town than San Francisco, the Chicago Teachers Union enjoyed the support of the entire community and other unions when they walked out seeking many of the same things -- higher wages and better healthcare.

So why are we not seeing that same kind of support here? Why are Bay Area workers so against their union counterparts? It all comes down to money. But why, when the U.S. Census Bureau claims Silicon Valley as home to the nation's second-highest concentration of wealth?

Labor lawyer Bill Sokol attempted to explain the problem to a room full of San Francisco college students one evening by walking them through a simple wage exercise, challenging everyone to figure out what they were actually owed for a week's work.

Nobody arrived at the correct figure.

Perhaps the real issue is this: Instead of turning to class warfare where the poor and middle class demand more from the rich, our society perpetually demands more from the poor and middle class. "They might be able to own their own home," says Sokol, speaking about the average salary for a BART worker. "Is that something we should be angry about?"

To find out, we need to take a closer look at unions, their history, and what they mean to everyday American workers.

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Coburn Palmer

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