We have to hand it to the SF Bay Guardian's Joe Fitzgerald, because even though he's only got two detailed interviews with actual BART workers talking about their real-world concerns about wages and not getting a raise in eight years, that's two more than we've seen anywhere during the past month's strike tensions.
Fitzgerald speaks with Robert Earl Bright, a 47-year-old transit vehicle mechanic at the Hayward yards, who makes $30/hr or $60K to $65K a year. He has an upside-down mortgage he shares with a fiancée, and he helps support a daughter and two new grandchildren, as well as an older brother with dementia. The health care stuff doesn't affect him too much because he still has health care through the military, in which he once served, but having to pay into his pension without getting a significant raise will likely mean having to cut back on what he gives to his daughter and brother.
Then we get the story of Phyllis Alexander, a 61-year-old systems service worker who's responsible for cleaning the Powell Street Station and 16th Street Station. She's worked for BART for 16 years, and she is, literally, the person responsible for cleaning out the elevators and escalators of human waste, which you can imagine appears there just about daily at those two busy stations. She makes $52,000 and hasn't gotten a raise in two contracts, or in the last seven to eight years. She has one daughter who's still living with her who just finished medical school. She says that "it would hurt me" to have to pay more into health care or her pension without a significant raise, and she's the type of lower-paid employee the unions have talking about when it comes those who would be worst affected by BART management's proposed contract.
They may be well paid, as transit workers go, but these people are, most definitely, the 99 percent, and at the lower end of the middle class by Bay Area standards.
Meanwhile, you have most of the local media only speaking to union reps, and/or BART negotiators, and focusing a lot on what sound on paper like pretty cushy salaries. And because so few of us are in unions, relative to 50 years ago, anti-union sentiment is running high, and the press is even reporting on that. Thus it stands to reason that polls show that 53% of Bay Area residents think BART workers are overcompensated. Look at the above salaries keeping in mind that median household income in the Bay Area is $72,000 as of 2010, with a high cost of living, and train operators and station agents make a base salary of about $65,000 with overtime. And we should note that while some of the media has decried the amount of overtime some employees rake in, Bright points out that in his department, managers ask workers to do overtime because it's cheaper than hiring another person.
Listen to both their full interviews below. And by the way, the Mercury-News is saying that the 60-day cooling-off period, which would put the next strike threat in October, seems inevitable.