Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In San Francisco BART Strike, Both Sides Feel the Heat

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In San Francisco BART Strike, Both Sides Feel the Heat

Article excerpt

As San Francisco transit workers wage the fourth day of a strike that has crippled Bay Area commuters, both unions and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) management are facing pressure from frustrated residents to settle, fast.

After talks over a new contract broke down and 2,400 workers went on strike, unions resumed bargaining with BART Tuesday evening on salaries, pensions, and safety issues. Although officials on both sides expressed optimism over renewed talks, their time is running out: Commuters slogging through bumper-to-bumper traffic and city officials wringing their hands over millions of dollars in lost worker productivity are growing impatient.

"You can bet that both the strike organizers and BART officials are watching the crowd, because this is inconveniencing a lot of people," says David Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine who studies social movements.

On the unions' side, it is a difficult road ahead. With much of their power having dissipated over the last several years and their remaining leverage, striking, carrying the risk of alienating public support, unions must keep the public's attention on issues that matter to a broader audience, Mr. Meyer says.

"Most people in America, sadly, aren't sympathetic to anyone who wants a raise, so the issue is to reach a base of support that lets them stay out there without tarnishing their image," Meyer says.

With area newspapers calling unions' demands for 23-percent salary raises over the next four years "outrageous" and "out of touch" with reality, it is possible that focusing on other issues, such as safety at BART stations, will more effectively rouse public support for the unions, Meyer says. …

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