After Four Months of Bargaining, Workers Say BART Management Has Yet to Make a Commitment at the Bargaining Table to Fix Critical Safety Issues That Threaten Rider and Worker Safety
San Francisco – BART workers today called on the transit agency’s management to bargain in good faith over safety issues, fix dozens of unresolved safety complaints, and stop fighting state regulators’ attempts to enforce safety laws at BART.
Workers at the transit agency say BART’s refusal to address their safety concerns is a major sticking point in an ongoing labor dispute that idled trains for four-and-a-half days in July and could lead to another strike at the end of a state-imposed cooling off period that expires in October.
“BART management says that safety issues are a ‘smokescreen’ at the bargaining table,” said Roxanne Sanchez, President of SEIU 1021, the union representing BART more than 1,400 BART maintenance workers, technicians and professional employees. “In reality, frontline workers have repeatedly identified safety problems that the district refuses to fix; instead of addressing these life and death issues, they’ve hired high-priced attorneys to fight safety laws.”
Over the past 10 years, state safety regulators repeatedly fined the Bay Area Rapid Transit District for directing district workers without electrician training or certification to work near the electrified third rail. Instead of reforming its procedures, to comply with state law, BART management has responded by authorizing more than $300,000 for attorneys to fight state safety regulators.
Between 2003 and 2010, BART paid tens of thousands in fines for incidents involving violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “safe clearance” regulations — a process by which electricians remove power to the electrified third rail by physically removing circuit breakers so that power cannot be accidentally restored while maintenance workers are working on the rail. Instead, BART management prefers “Field Verified Power Off”, a process by which the power to the third rail can be turned on and off remotely.
“It’s analogous to fixing a garbage disposal,” said Saul Almanza, a safety instructor at BART. “Workers want the disposal unplugged from the wall before we stick our hands in; BART wants us to stick our hands in while the disposal is still plugged in and someone in another room who cannot see us has his hand on the on-off switch.”
BART workers cite other unresolved safety complaints, like poor lighting in tunnels that contributed to the death of a BART maintenance worker who was hit by a train while servicing the tracks, and brush and flammable debris left near BART tracks that caused a recent fire in Richmond, as the reason they’re raising safety concerns at the table.
Frontline safety and maintenance workers shared personal photos they’d taken on the job documenting numerous examples of poorly lit tracks and tunnels, brush and debris near tracks and other unresolved safety problems they’ve raised with management.
“One reason BART workers want safety issues addressed at the bargaining table is they believe district management prefers to pay Cal/OSHA fines rather than fix underlying safety issues,” says John Arantes, BART Chapter President for SEIU 1021.
BART’s safety department conducts cost-benefit analyses in deciding whether to fight OSHA safety rulings or simply pay repeated fines, Arantes said. He points to emails between BART managers discussing whether to fight certain safety violations based on the cost of the penalties.
“It’s BART management’s job to save money but not at the cost of the safety of riders and workers,” said Arantes, “It’s our job to keep workers and riders safe and that’s why were raising these issues at the bargaining table. It’s time for BART to deal with them.”
Download photos here.