Experts: Transportation Strike May Damage Union’s Pull

San Francisco transit strikes left tens of thousands of commuters stranded

October 23, 2013

Labor experts suggested the strike by more than 2,000 unionized San Francisco transit employees could decrease the influence of the politically powerful union that led the walkout.

Dr. Steve Allen, a labor expert at the Capital Research Center, said that the union’s gambit in shutting down the transit system for the second time in the past year could embolden political allies to get tough in future negotiations. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who received near-universal endorsements from labor unions in his campaign, banned the union from striking over the summer.

"There’s a really good chance of a backlash and the unions have to make sure they don’t push it," Allen said. "When you have something like public transportation that affects the public everyday, that’s getting into dangerous territory for the union."

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was shut down after failed negotiations between the city and SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union over onerous work rules.

The strike outraged union critics, who said that unions are ignoring fiscal realities out of their own interests.

"We … continue to be bullied by the greed of union leadership," said Steve Siebold, author of Sex, Politics, Religion: How Delusional Thinking is Destroying America. "It's proven to be an unsustainable model and it's time for California lawmakers to stand up to the SEIU and shut them down."

San Francisco’s SEIU chapter is a major political force in California’s Democratic Party.

The union spent more than $3 million in 2012 on lobbying, contributions, gifts, get-out-the-vote efforts, and other political activities, according to federal tax filings with the Department of Labor. The national SEIU organization donated more than $150,000 to 15 California congressional candidates in the cycle, including $10,000 to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), whose district is located in San Francisco.

The union’s donations aid it during negotiations with government officials, making grand bargains even harder to come by, according to Dr. Steve Allen, a labor expert at the Capital Research Center. Public sector union donations are highly coveted among city and state candidates. Drawing a hard line in negotiations could cost lawmakers campaign donations and support.

"You have a tremendous amount of power when you can control who sits on the opposite side of the bargaining table," Allen said. "There’s always going to be pressure."

The average BART employee earns nearly $80,000 per year in salary and $130,000 in total compensation, as a result of past negotiations, according to the Wall Street Journal. The innate advantage that public sector unions hold in negotiations is why Siebold wants to see them abolished.

"No organization has the right to hold the public hostage," he said. "If a BART employee is unhappy with his bloated salary, he is welcome to quit and let someone who wants to work take his position."

The strike left tens of thousands of commuters without adequate transportation, and is expected to cost the city tens of millions of dollars in commerce every day.

The inefficiencies caused in the private sector during the strike are the result of the city’s attempt to address inefficiencies in the transit system, according to the Wall Street Journal. The unions balked at the city’s attempt to simplify the 470-page rulebook, which mandates that unionized BART employees deliver workers their paychecks, that drives up costs.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on Monday night that brought service back Tuesday morning, but the damage may have already been done, according to Allen.

"There is a limit to the public patience because there’s a limit to public resources. It’s not because of animosity, it’s because you can’t keep taking and expect the taxpayer to take it," Allen said.

Published under: California , SEIU