Letters for September 9 

Readers sound off on the BART strike, Café Gratitude, and density in downtown Berkeley.

"BART Brass Hangs Tough," Seven Days, 8/19

Benefits Outweigh Costs

It was wishful thinking to hope the remarks of feature opinion writer Robert Gammon, even though published in an "independent" weekly such as the East Bay Express, would demonstrate empathy for the blue-collar folks who safely transport so much of the Bay Area to work on a daily basis. Anti-labor commentary from the mainstream corporate press is expected, but it's even more infuriating that BART management is aided in its strenuous efforts to cram "take-away" contract terms down the throats of rank-and-file union members by an ostensibly "community"-oriented newspaper.

UPS employees, school teachers, and transit workers all came under fire in the last period, from Republican and Democratic Party state and local regimes alike. Not long ago the puffed up "Governator" flashed his money clip at reporters during a press conference and taunted health care workers as "girlie men" for, among other things, fighting to keep nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals at a safe and reasonable level. Democratic Party honchos have also distanced themselves from BART train operators and station agents; no surprise there!Robert Gammon and the East Bay Express have now also apparently jumped on the labor-bashing bandwagon. Gammon credits BART brass "... for hanging tough and refusing to capitulate to the union's demands." Interesting characterization, that.

What were these "demands" and what, precisely, was wrong with them? The union ranks at each of three BART bargaining units wanted, in essence, to basically "hold the line" and not give back as much as management itself had initially demanded. These days it seems every working person is being told to "work more, for less" in order to "stay competitive" in the world market. Economically speaking it's a race to the bottom, unless you're a Wall Street bank, a big corporation, or a University of California bigwig, in which case you get a bonus or a bailout that would make a Somali pirate blush with embarrassment. 

The sorry union (mis)leadership literally begged BART management to compromise with its workforce by NOT TAKING AWAY SO MUCH as had initially been "demanded" by BART management. Union officers who recommended acceptance of the terms demanded by management were understandably met with stiff resistance by employees with mortgages and real life financial issues. Caustic San Francisco Chronicle and the sneering Oakland Tribune writers made a lot of noise about "antiquated work rules" leading to "massive overtime pay." Yet they were damn short on particulars.

As so many other places seem to have grasped, mass transit does not ordinarily run at a profit, and the ridership cannot be expected to meet the necessary costs by paying out-of-pocket themselves. To say mass transit "runs at a loss" that must be made up by employee wage concessions is bogus. It overlooks the undeniable fact that only public general funds can cover the necessary costs of mass transit, as is done for fire protection and many other public services. Transit budgets are benefits that reduce traffic congestion, reduce air and noise pollution, and reduce parking problems. The "priceless" social benefits of a well-trained and well-paid transit workforce far outweigh the ordinary monetary costs. The same politicians who want to hammer BART employees are frequently very much in favor of massive public subsidies for new sports stadiums. (What is wrong with this picture?)

Enough with the song-and-dance about "give backs" and "compromises" by ordinary working people! The fraudulent government bailout for Wall Street, etc., demonstrates that we all benefit by supporting those BART employees who aren't too demoralized to resist management and corporate pressure to "give back" what they have managed to secure for themselves. Victory to the BART transit workers!

Scott Gilpin, Oakland

Corporate Stooges?

When did Rupert Murdoch acquire the East Bay Express? When did you hire corporate stooge Robert Gammon? First, he claims Berkeley to be NIMBY despite all the proof that it's not, voicing a well-known right-wing canard about Berkeley being "liberal" or "progressive" as long as the ox being gored is not one of its sacred cows. (See Letters, August 19-25, John Vinopal). Now he sides with BART brass. "BART brass deserves credit for hanging tough and refusing to capitulate to the union's demands." The deal "allows BART management to meet its goal of slashing $100 million from employee compensation for all the agency's workers." "The train operators and station agents were prepared to hold the Bay Area hostage." "Bay Area residents ... have no sympathy for the well-paid workers."

I understand that mainstream media always castigates the workers, especially when they organize and act in their own self interest. Since 1981, unions and hourly wage earners in general have been under attack by corporate media. Why should the workers have to sacrifice well-earned benefits? Why is management negotiating with the union capitulation, but not the union kowtowing to management? What is the salary of BART's Uncle Tom spokesman? Of its back-shooting police force? Its top 25 managers? Why is BART going ahead with an unneeded people mover for the Oakland Airport?

Without a well-paid blue-collar middle-class, there is no way out of the current depression, unless we can convince Japan (or Korea or Iran) to attack Pearl Harbor again. Yet the corporate media continues to attack the worker, and not management. And now the alternative media joins them. "Et tu, Brute?"

Eugene Webber, Oakland

"The Secret Sidewalk May Not Be Secret Much Longer," News, 8/19

Watch Out for the Poison Oak

I remember playing on the Secret Sidewalk in the late '50s when I was five years old. Always a challenge to cross the bridge and make it to the tunnel. Watch out for the hobos, the smell of wild fennel, poison oak, a working clay pipe factory, and swimming in the creek. Definitely a hazard and unsafe to walk on, beautiful place for a trail through the canyon if something could be done to ensure the public's safety.

Jim Richardson, San Leandro

"Anti-Growth Group Wraps Itself in Green," Eco Watch, 8/19

Surrounded by Aliens


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