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Scenes from the BART strike

on October 18, 2013

Updated Friday, October 18 at 2:36 p.m.

Thirteen thousand people use Richmond and Del Norte BART stations weekly. When union workers announced that they would strike at midnight, many expected the lack of service to cause wide disruption to their morning routine.

This is a reprise from the strike in early July, but this one is expected to be worse. “Kids are back in school, summer’s over, people are back at work, and people can lose their jobs over this stupid strike,” Jennifer Williams told reporters Thursday night after the strike announcement.

Most students at Contra Costa Community College managed to make it to classes on time. Freshman Elijah McClendon usually takes BART to school, but carpooled with friends instead. He was not sympathetic to the strikers. “I think they get paid enough,” he said.

After a long night of studying, Linda, who did not want to give her last name, arrived at the Richmond station hoping to catch a train to class. “Oh my God,” she said dropping her jaw and looking stunned, I should probably go home then.”

Paul Guernsey was also caught off guard by the strike.

“I had no idea about the strike until I got here,’ Guernsey said, scrambling to figure out a way to the North Bay. He was carrying a backpack and a suitcase. Although his travels have been disrupted, Guernsey said he supports what the union is doing.

“They should just give BART workers the money they ask for.”

Richmond resident Essie Smith, 48, knew there was going to be a BART strike, but she was still unable to make it to a medical appointment. “I was supposed to go and have my blood drawn but I couldn’t make it there because I usually take the BART. I don’t know how to catch the bus there,” she said.

Richmond resident Toni Thornton, 31, was also affected by the strike.  She works in East Oakland and doesn’t own a vehicle. Taking the bus to work will add over an hour to her commute. “I’m not trying to lose my job because of this but it’s just something out of my control,” she said. “All my relatives live here in [Richmond] so if they drop me off someone will have to come pick me up and face traffic both ways.”

Many commuters at the El Cerrito del Norte BART station were also surprised to find BART shut down. “Why is the BART station closed?” asked Parsa Mahmoudieh as he approached Del Norte’s entrance at 10:15 a.m., which was covered with a big metal gate.

“Strike,” responded Raul Villasenor, who was studying the AC Transit bus schedules nearby.

Mahmoudieh, a mechanical engineering student at UC Berkeley, hadn’t been following the labor dispute in the news. “No way,” he said in disbelief. He had driven from his home in Vallejo to the del Norte station. He walked across the street to wait for the 72 Bus.

Villasenor, who was traveling from Napa to his home in Hayward, followed Mahmoudieh. He estimated that his travel time would take about four hours. “It’s pretty nice when you have BART,” he said. “Now, it’s just a hassle.”

Union protesters were also gathered at the El Cerrito del Norte station around 9 a.m. with signs that read “Safety First” and “Stop the Violence,” but the union leadership had advised them not to speak to the press. A BART police cruiser pulled up to the curb and someone inside handed a bundle of sandwiches out the window to strikers. The BART police are not on strike.

Drivers honked in support of the picketers. But not everyone was so supportive. There were occasionally angry outbursts. At least one exchange was colored by explicit racism: A white man on a bike shouted at the largely African-American union members. “None of you are educated!” he yelled over and over. He then pointed to one of the few white strikers and said: “Do you see what you are surrounded by?”

At the casual carpool, where the Richmond Parkway meets Highway 80, cars were lining up in hopes of finding a rider to allow them access to the carpool lane. Traffic north of Richmond seemed no worse than usual, and by 8:30, traffic on the highways sped up. “I thought it would be worse,” said Ben Lee. “I thought it would be traffic all the way up until 10 o’clock.”

Earlier this week George Cohen, a federal mediator, came to the Bay Area to help resolve the situation. But on Thursday evening, negotiations broke down.

“Unfortunately, regrettably, we were not able to bring them the result we all want to achieve: a voluntary collective bargaining agreement,” Cohen said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. Cohen’s role in the negotiations is over since the two sides could not reach an agreement, he said.

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