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Of the Top Five Most-Used Rail Systems, Only BART Allows Strikes

Sean Pyles | October 23, 2013 | Lifestyle Story City Life

Well, at least the BART strike is over. But one question that kept coming up during the second shutdown of the transit system since July, is why are BART workers allowed to strike in the first place? Aren't they essential employees the way that police or fire-fighters are?

The answer that many comparable transit systems give is yes. A review of public records and transit usage data provided by the American Association of Public Transportation reveals that of the five heaviest-used metropolitan public rail systems in the country, BART is the only one that permits strikes.

The nation's most-used rail system is in New York, with 2.5 billion rides per year. There, strikes have been illegal by a 1967 state law since that came in the aftermath of the transit strike in the 1966. But New York City is not alone. The next three most used systems are DC, Chicago, and Boston. In each of those systems, strikes by transit workers are banned by city charters.

That brings us to the Bay Area, where the BART system carried 111 million riders in 2011, the last year for which data was available. We are the only one of the five in which union workers are permitted to strike.

From a progressive's union-friendly standpoint, this difference is a sign that San Francisco may yet remain a union town. For the fed-up commuter, it's a glaring weakness in the system—and one that appears to have been seized on by Assembly candidate Steve Glazer, who is circulating a petition to bring the BART in line with other transit agencies.

One quirk: strike bans tend to be also accompanied by binding arbitration clauses, which BART management has tended to oppose.

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