During its 50-year lifespan, 1947-1997, the transportation system meant to revolutionize commuter travel has been completely undermined by governmental control of people, places and things, including primal urges, as exemplified recently in the BART strike. Negotiations were stopped and fighting emerged because lunch came late.
This is coming to you from a former employee promoted to the highest-paid union position, plus 10% as Central Operations Training Instructor, over a period of five and one-half years. I burned out, being eaten up in the frenzy for power positioning from within.
At 16 years old, in 1963, I drove my '57 Chevy alongside the BART Diablo test track in Concord and vowed I would work there someday. After high school, two Vietnam tours, five years of college, a wife and son, I was hired as a train operator in May, 1973.
Accelerated in training, I passed their tests with 100% scores and received my train keys on a Friday afternoon. I reported to the Richmond Yard for my first shift at midnight on Sunday, only to discover we were on strike-on my very first day.
I learned my first lesson about strikes: everyone loses. Strikes are emotionally and mentally draining and not economically advantageous until years into the contract. Management gets paid, but they lose in non-monetary ways. They remain separate from union workers, firmly establishing a we/they mentality. The absence of teamwork permeates all areas.
An opening for Maintenance Dispatcher appeared in the Control Center. I applied and was one of two selected from a field of 35 or so. The other person was the boss' secretary. Two and one-half years of graveyard shifts provided the opportunity for me to study everything I could get my hands on, and I developed the first certified training program for central controllers.
I periodically wrote letters to every department head, advising them of areas needing attention. This effort on my part was not well received. In one instance, 135 lock failures were logged systemwide. There was one locksmith who had no vehicle.
I was warned to not rock the boat. The secretary got the job I applied for.
Because of red tape, the installation of an under-train fire extinguishing system in the transbay tube was stalled, and a train caught fire under the Bay. One firefighter was killed, and hundreds of people suffered lung damage. No one accepted responsibility. Two days later I resigned.
After living in Maui for a year, I returned to San Francisco, unsettled in my feelings about my BART years. I knew I had something to say, and stated my perceptions without blame. My letter was personally handed by a former BART board member to the then-president of the board, Barclay Simpson. I never heard a word of response.
Then this past March, I was standing in front of the El Cerrito Plaza station and read a huge poster stating BART's District Goals. Item number nine-"To have all employees act as owners of the BART system"-was my own words exactly, written 15 years earlier. In private, employee-owned business, the employee is responsible for the customer's satisfaction, and personally accountable.
Must we put up with the blatant hostage-taking tactics exhibited recently only to have the same attitudes prevail after the strike is settled? The people deserve more.
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