On December 23, 2005, I went out on a date. It was one day after the transit strike that crippled New York had ended. I was in a foul mood.
The night before, you see, I had been on another date. Throughout dinner, the woman I was out with complained about the transit strike. About how much she was inconvenienced (she worked in the publishing industry and her commute into Manhattan had been screwed up), how good the workers had it, how bad public sector unions were.
So on the night of the 23rd, as I walked into the bar, I was ready for the worst. When I met the woman I was due to have a drink with, I asked her how she was doing. “Oh fine,” she said, “if you like meeting strange men at bars.” (We had met online; this was our first date.) “Well,” I said, “I can make this really easy on you. Where do you stand on the transit strike?” She replied instantly: “You’ve got a bunch of working-class people led by a guy with a really cool Caribbean accent. What’s not to like?” On the right side, not too earnest, with just a touch of irony.
Seventeen months later, we were married.
All of which is to say: I really hate privileged people complaining about public-sector unions, especially when those unions make things inconvenient for them.
On Friday, the transit workers who run BART in the Bay Area went on strike. The technorati pounced, complaining about the workers’ salaries and the hassle of their interrupted commutes. My favorite tweet, making fun of the whole phenomenon, was this one:
“Can you believe the salary these BART guys get to drive a train?” —someone whose job is making internet ads more clickable.
— Jim Ray (@jimray) October 18, 2013
BART workers make a base pay of about $60,000. That’s $15,000 less than what it takes for a family of four “to get by” in the Bay Area. Even if you assume that that family has two wage earners making $60,000 apiece, that combined salary would put them above the median household income for the Bay Area but hardly make them rich. Which is exactly what union jobs are supposed to do.
But in the imagination of the high-tech professionals of the Bay Area, that’s precisely the problem with union jobs. (Or perhaps they have no idea what a middle-class life actually looks like—and costs.)
In any event, union workers—and union workers on strike—really piss these people off. So much so that one Twitter exec blurted this out:
What’s brown and black and looks great on someone causing the #BARTstrike? A Doberman. (Toooo angry? Long day in the car.)
As it happens, wages aren’t even the real issue dividing the BART workers from management. It’s work rules, and more important, control over work rules. Turns out transit workers like to have some control over their working environment. Not unlike all those high tech assholes in Silicon Valley.