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BART Impasse
John Logan says the parties in the BART dispute have spent more energy on public relations than private negotiations.

By John Logan

We are, incredibly, days away from a second BART strike.

Both sides have been guilty of bargaining through the media, rather than talking directly to one another. BART management has insisted that the unreasonable demands of the unions are to blame for the stalemate. Unions have disputed management's financial claims and blamed the limited progress in negotiations on Thomas Hock, BART's expensive out-of-state chief negotiator with a history of contentious transit negotiations that resulted in disruptive strikes.

BART management has consistently misrepresented the economic issues at the center for the dispute. Gavin Newsom warned BART management that it was "disingenuous to attack your workers for asking for a raise," when their proposed cuts barely leave them running in place. During the 2009 negotiations, BART workers accepted $100 million in savings, which is why BART President Thomas Blalock stated he was "extremely pleased" with that agreement. The system is now in much better financial shape, but BART workers are still playing catch-up.

The unions have raised real questions about BART's chief negotiator, but need to explain how the system can afford their demands without blowing a hole in its healthcare and pensions budget down the road. BART employees have worked for years without a raise, and have legitimate concerns about worker and rider safety, but must recognize the need to contain costs, invest in the system and keep fares reasonable.

Negotiating through the media is easier than doing it in person, but it won't resolve this dispute. All parties need to spend less time waging a PR war and more time in serious and common sense negotiations. Both sides have fallen short of what is required to settle this acrimonious dispute.

With a Perspective, I'm John Logan.

John Logan is a professor and Director of Labor and Employment Relations at San Francisco State University.

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