Last train - Page 3

BART standoff has national implications in an age of wealth and austerity

BART emplyees picket on the corner of Market and Montgomery on Moday. July 1


One of the hardest issues to overcome in the court of public opinion may be the fully funded pensions of BART employees. "Times are changing, costs are escalating rapidly, and we're asking for a modest contribution," Rice said of BART's demand that employees help fund their pensions.

Daly acknowledges the resentments about the pension issue, even though it was essentially a trap set for public employee unions back in the 1980s, when BART and other public agencies were the ones offering to pay for employee pensions in lieu of raises.

But rather than resenting public employees for having pensions, he said the public should be asking why most workers don't have retirement security and how to fix that problem.

"At what point do we organize and demand retirement security for all workers?" Daly said, noting that SEIU is now leading that fight on behalf of all workers, not just its members. "What we ought to be talking about is how we restore the social contract."

Jacobs confirmed that SEIU has indeed been pushing the retirement security issue at the state and federal levels. And it's a crucial issue, he said, noting that just 45 percent of workers have pensions and that the average retirement savings is just $12,000.

"The retirement problem we have is not the pension crisis, it is the lack of pensions crisis," Jacobs said.

That's one reason that he said this standoff has implications that extend far beyond the Bay Area.

"The fight goes beyond these particular workers," Jacobs said. "It's an important set of negotiations and an important strike in terms of looking at what happens in this country as the economy improves."

Daly agrees there's a lot at stake, for more than just his members.

"Losing on this means we'd be hard pressed to win elsewhere, anytime," Daly said. "It is important symbolically, and it is important to the strength and morale of the movement."