There has been a troubling increase of assaults on BART workers — and there also has been the equally troubling issue of these threats against frontline workers becoming part of ongoing labor negotiations.
The number of assaults on station agents has increased from nine in 2009 to 31 in 2012, according to the transit agency. The attacks on workers who are in the system to assist passengers should not be taken lightly, and addressing their safety must be a top priority.
But how to make the workplace safer for the valued employees has seemingly become mired in contract talks. The main union that represents station agents, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, says reductions in the workforce have left these employees alone in stations and prone to attacks. BART says the workforce reduction has likely had little impact, and that it is outside forces, such as passenger behavior, driving the increase in assaults.
It really does not matter which side is correct, and the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. A fix could mean that BART needs to hire more station agents to create safe workplaces, or it might mean a change in how BART police patrol the most dangerous stations. Perhaps BART also needs to sign deals with local law enforcement to help patrol dangerous stations.
All ideas should be brought forward in a non-hostile manner to flesh out the problems and figure out what can be done to boost safety.
But first, the transit agency and the union should both stop pointing fingers and settle the safety issue outside of contract talks. Safety for BART workers should be a priority, not a tool used for leverage in working out pay and benefits issues.