With the possibility of a BART strike looking more likely, tension was thick during Gene Alexander’s shift as a BART train operator Thursday evening. Earlier that day BART union representatives said they would likely strike at midnight, but Alexander was still transporting passengers. It was clear to her that some riders were upset.
“All day today people were giving me evil looks like ‘ugh, I just want to slap her,’” said Alexander, a Richmond resident. “I don’t know what to expect from people when they are looking at me with mean mugs,” she added. “I’m just working for a living like everybody else. I’m trying to feed my family like everybody else.”
Many opposed to the strike believe that BART employees make ample money already. Local news outlets have reported that BART station agents and train operators take in between $62,000 and $76,551 a year, but it’s hard to determine a precise figure.
“Looking at what the employees make, the average employee, that’s more than I make,” said Sherrie Johnson, a legal secretary at the Richmond Attorney General’s office. “And they pay less for their medical than I pay. So no, I don’t have any sympathy for them at all.”
A representative from SEIU 1021 said that the salary and benefit numbers being reported are inflated. “They don’t get paid nearly as much as BART management has portrayed,” said Cecile Isidro, a spokesperson for SEIU 1021, which represents more than 1,400 maintenance, service and professional BART employees.
The average starting salary for service workers is roughly $45,000 annually, and for vehicle mechanics it’s roughly $55,000, Isidro said. “Trying to live in the Bay Area with those sorts of salaries doesn’t go very far,” she said.
Meanwhile, she said, BART’s General Manager makes $320,000 annually. “My question is does the public really know very much about the BART workers, or are they just believing the misrepresentations that BART management has put out?” Isidro asked.
For some, the frustration with BART workers is not about how much they make.
“Some people don’t have jobs,” said Adrian Garcia, truck driver, who commutes to Richmond once a week.
“Many people are still looking for a permanent job. And these people have had a permanent job all the time, and they want some more money,” he added. “They have very good jobs, very good benefits – everything. Some people don’t have anything: no job, no money, no food. That’s what I disagree with.”
BART General Manager Grace Crunican released a statement saying that the board offered a package that includes a 12% wage increase, but work rules are still an issue.
“This union contract is about the future,” Crunican wrote. “This contract must be informed by not only the needs of our unions but by the future needs of our riders. The stakes are sky-high but the solutions are within reach. The public needs the trains to run. We need a spirit of compromise from our unions.”
As an operator who deals with passengers daily, Alexander is concerned with how the public views BART workers. She thinks the aftermath of the strike could affect relations between unions and management.
“I’m really scared because I don’t know how our relationship with management will be once this whole thing is over,” she said.