Letters for the Week of November 6 

Readers sound off on illegal dumping in Oakland, banning transit strikes, and unions.

"What a Waste," Feature, 10/23

No Feasible Options

People want to do the right thing, but we haven't been provided feasible options. I suggest sitting down with residents of impacted areas and working out a program for local large item trash disposal, or perhaps no-charge large bins in a designated area with pickup once a week. For those who can't get their items to the bins (no car, etc.), enact a small fee to call for a pick-up. There are many ways this can be solved. Shame on the city councilmembers who aren't sitting down with their constituents and figuring out a practical solution.

Carolyn Burd, Oakland

"Why Banning Transit Strikes Is a Bad Idea," Seven Days, 10/23

Held Hostage By Unions

Allow for binding arbitration like other unions that represent a necessary service. Chicago, NYC, Washington DC, and even San Francisco's own Muni seem to get by this way, have strong unions, and good jobs. It is no stretch and not caving to Republithugs to enact something this simple. I resent being held hostage by the union. If they keep it up, they may lose the entire union. And I'm a pro-union person — my sympathy for this union is gone.

Mark Sutton, San Francisco

Harms Outweigh Benefits of Strike

I have long resisted writing to you about this issue, because I did not want to be perceived as anti-labor, which I'm not. The behavior of management in the latest BART strikes was totally deplorable (though the workers' decision to strike was equally so). However, your latest column, ridiculously asserting that "banning transit strikes is a bad idea" is so outrageous that I must respond.

Points on which I assume that we agree: The more people who take public transit instead of driving, the better off our environment will be; all workers deserve a fair and living wage; in private industry, corporate officers and board members should not make many times what the workers make, nor should shareholders' profits take precedence over providing workers with adequate and fair wages; and workers who make less money should not be harmed in favor of those who make more.

Public transit is not a private company making profit. More pay for workers means less money for the system, not less money for shareholders. Public transit should be well-funded (preferably by a gasoline tax), but while advocating for adequate funding we also have to deal with the reality of how much money is currently available. BART trains do not run often enough on some lines and the trains often have too few cars, causing riders to have to wait too long for trains, to stand, and often to be packed in like sardines. The trains are old and poorly maintained, causing breakdowns that make people late, and causing the air systems on many cars to function improperly, usually resulting in the air in the cars being too hot. BART has not been maintaining its tracks so that the trains are now ridiculously loud. All of these problems require money to fix, and money paid to workers is that much less than is available to fix the problems. It is a fact that BART workers make more than the average person even in the Bay Area and, regardless of Robert Gammon's assertion to the contrary, these workers are unskilled in that they did not sacrifice the time, effort, and money it takes to make it through college in order to get their jobs, so they are very well-paid by any measure. Any remaining money should be put into the system to fix these problems, not into workers' pockets. There are many people who do not use BART due to these problems, so fixing them would also be better for the environment, which should always be a top priority.

A transit strike is not just a mere inconvenience, as you assert. Instead, in a large metropolitan area like the Bay Area, a transit strike causes massive increased consumption and burning of oil, causes many people to take substantially longer to get to work, and prevents some people from even getting to work. You call this a "small price to pay," but it's not; a BART strike is a very large price to pay for the environment, for the 400,000 people who use BART daily, for even more people (a million?) whose commutes are greatly increased due to increased traffic in an already overcrowded highway system, and for people who can't even get to work, many of whom are low-paid and struggling. We should also keep in mind that the large majority of people who ride BART make less money than those who were striking.

Regardless of one's position about supporting Democrats or unions, the harms caused by public transit strikes are not even close to being worth the harms they cause. There are people who drive because of things like transit strikes that make public transit that much less reliable, and there is nothing that Democrats do or would do that can make up for that environmental harm.

A ban on transit strikes is not only not a bad idea, it's an idea whose time came long ago, but somehow BART workers managed to avoid it. Muni workers are not allowed to strike, nor are public transit workers in other large urban areas like Chicago and New York. By striking, BART workers showed that a ban on transit strikes is in fact not only a good idea, but a necessary one.  No group of people should be allowed to cause environmental harm, substantially increase commute times for everyone in areas affected by BART, or keep some people from getting to work, just to increase their pay, especially when they are already making more than the average person. BART strikes like the recent two are unconscionable, and I for one would totally support a law that bans them for good. The only people I've heard who are not opposed to BART strikes do not ride BART, and I'd be willing to bet that 70 to 80 percent of BART riders strongly support a ban on these strikes. A strike against public transit is a strike against the environment, the workers who depend on that transit, and the society that is severely disrupted by such a strike, and we should ensure that it never happens again.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

"Critical Questions Remain for BART Management," Opinion, 10/23

Unions' Responsibility

And of course you should ask, what is the union's responsibility for accepting its responsibility to the public that uses their services. Would we accept a firefighter strike? And they would not even consider it. Muni has a no-strike provision and things get worked out. Why can't BART unions do the same?

Ed Gerber, Oakland

Awards

The Express won two awards for journalism excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter. The paper won in the investigative journalism category for Darwin BondGraham's report "Public Research for Private Gain." The paper also won an award for arts and culture reporting for Ellen Cushing's story, "The Bacon-Wrapped Economy." Both awards were in the print/small newspaper division for publications with a circulation of less than 100,000.

BondGraham's June 26 cover story revealed that the UC Board of Regents approved the creation of a new corporate entity earlier this year that will likely give a group of well-connected businesspeople control over publicly funded academic research. And Cushing's March 20 cover story explored how the growth of the Bay Area's tech industry has impacted the region's arts and cultural landscape.

The Express was the only alternative newsweekly to win awards in this year's SPJ NorCal contest, which is considered to be the premier journalism competition in the Bay Area.

Correction

In our October 30 Culture Spy, "Preserving First Fridays," the photo of Sarah Kidder should have been credited to Uriah Duffy. 

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