Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission fined BART $650,000 for safety violations that resulted in the tragic deaths of two track workers who were struck and killed by a train during a 2013 strike. BART tried to break the strike by training managers to replace highly skilled train operators.
One such trainee was driving the train that killed the track workers; he had so little experience that he pressed a button controlling the doors instead of the horn to warn the workers. Yet he was in the cab without any direct supervision.
The BART senior officials, who not only provoked the unnecessary strike but also attempted to break it using these barbaric tactics, got off scot-free. Nobody was fired, and no criminal charges were pressed.
Compare that to an incident in 2012, when a BART station agent was discovered giving unused, paid-for-train tickets to a 16-year-old boy in need. That station agent was fired. The disparity between consequences for management and workers is startling and appalling. Management consistently holds workers to high standards, and it is time they apply those same standards to themselves.
If a worker and not a member of management had been in the cab of that train, there is no question as to what would’ve happened. The worker would have been fired and would have had criminal charges pressed against them, while BART would have ducked responsibility and distanced themselves from the incident. Yet when a member of management is responsible for the deaths of two people — the loss of two human lives — they get nothing more than a ‘slap on the wrist’ with this fine. In a clear dichotomy between executives and working people, working people are constantly receiving the short end of the stick. There is a very concerning precedent being set: there is a double standard for management and workers.
This is a worrisome pattern for BART officials, who have acted in bad faith at the negotiating table in the past and pushed workers towards a strike. With no threat of punishment when experimenting with new ways to avoid paying workers and poorly attempting to train people to correctly do an experienced worker’s job, there is no incentive for BART to treat workers fairly in contract negotiations.
The California Public Utilities Commission must hold BART management accountable for their criminal actions and signal to BART that it is time to treat workers with respect and value our role and experience in providing a safe and reliable transit system for all San Franciscans. If action isn’t taken, lives could be lost … again.
Larry Hanley is international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.