Monday, July 8th, 2013

Stupid Striking BART Union Doesn't "Get" Silicon Valley Values

It was fun yesterday watching these quotes from Pando's Sarah Lacy spread across Twitter last night, each person discovering it afresh, so that every time I checked Twitter, there was always someone having a bad feeling.

Sarah Lacy, founder of tech news site Pando Daily, which is based in San Francisco, said “If I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause, and if they had more friends who were building companies they would probably realize we’re not all millionaires, and we’re actually working pretty hard to build something.”

She said the BART strike exacerbated what she sees as a philosophical divide in the Bay Area. “People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”

GOOD STUFF. San Francisco used to be a great city, and now it is populated by Fountainhead enthusiasts who know how to run everything.

I also enjoyed the other guy who said his developers were joking about how they were like "wait I'll quit this stupid job computer-jockeying go for one of those amazing BART salaries." This is him:

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Bill Peschel (#170,856)

Then you see a comment like this from the article linked above and understand why they're complaining:

"I was a Bart station agent. Starting pay $33.00 per hour. 20% differential for working nights. 10% more if your a lead agent. Overtime is time and a half, double time and a half on holidays. Do the math. Average income is $80,000 to $130,000 a year, depending on seniority. I met station agents with 30 years or more seniority who bragged about there pay. One man told me " I made $125,000 last year." They don't put any $ towards retirement. And $90.00 a month towards health benefits."

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Bill Peschel Tell me again what the median rent in San Francisco is like? Or is it unfair to suggest that public service employees should be allowed to live in the city they serve?

To put it another way: how many of these software developers who are whining, when talking to friends from back home, find themselves explaining how "well, $150,000 a year isn't actually that much in the Bay Area…"

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Bill Peschel I mean, God forbid a guy with 30 years on the job, who is responsible for far more passengers each year than a commercial airline pilot, make $125,000 a year in one of the world's most expensive cities. That's practically enough to buy a small house in an outer suburb and send his kids to college which certainly shouldn't be allowed.

He should be doing something useful for society like designing the user interface for the 9,000th location-based photo sharing rating cloud app for a company that won't exist in 7 months.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Bill Peschel "I met station agents with 30 years or more seniority who bragged about there pay"

While these poor Silcon Valley types worked so hard SINCE GETTING OUT OF COLLEGE TWO YEARS AGO, and can't even make their first billion yet!

Non-Anonymous (#19,293)

@Bill Peschel Please explain exactly why BART workers should not make $80-130K, and how much you think they should make instead. Thanks.

foxbat91 (#9,832)

@stuffisthings So… everyone in the Bay Area should make $33/hour starting salary? That is never going to happen. Millions of people around the bay live well on way less than BART station agents are pulling in already. You don't have to be a republican or an airhead libertarian to think that any extra money in the public transit system should go towards better service – new cars, later service, more frequent trains – rather than giving a 23% raise to workers who are already pretty well paid and who enjoy a defined-benefit pension scheme that is now widely seen as so expensive in the long run that you basically cannot find any private sector jobs that would include one.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@foxbat91 You know, when I start thinking about people who pull way more money than they *should*, transit workers are nowhere near the top of my list (even if we are talking just about the Bay Area). But that's just me.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@foxbat91 "everyone in the Bay Area should make $33/hour starting salary? That is never going to happen"

And the big corporation driving us all to ruin? That, however, is almost certain. So, let's just keep working towards that.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@foxbat91 OK, first, I don't know how the BART system works but in DC "station agent" is not an entry-level job, you have to work your way up from being a train driver (if you are a shitty train driver sometimes they will promote you to get you out of the train, but that's another story).

Second, the 21% raise was the Union's opening gambit, versus the offered 4%. The idea being that you end up somewhere in the middle. This is called "negotiation." The strike was called because the two sides couldn't agree in time.

Third, it's perfectly reasonable to imagine that increasing pay for transit workers WOULD improve service — for example by helping the system attract better personnel. You can buy the world's nicest trains but they are useless without people to drive and maintain them. Mass transit is an essential piece of city infrastructure that require trained people to maintain and operate. I don't know why you would think they ought to be paid more like day laborers than like UX designers.

Fourth, and most importantly, the problem here is not just people complaining about the BART workers' demands, it's the most egregiously overpaid and useless people in the entire Bay Area complaining about it. If these complaints were coming from maids or fast food workers I think you might see a very different reaction.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

Also — while it's hard to find actual details of the underlying contract negotiations in any media accounts — it looks like they are coming off a four-year wage freeze. If they had gotten 4% raises each of those four years current wages would be (if I've done my math right) almost 17% higher than they are now. So 21% is not a crazy off-the-wall demand.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@foxbat91: ENOUGH with the misleading "23% raise" trope! BART union has proposed a 5.5% annual increase over each of the next four years of the contract. They'll likely give some ground on this – though even if they get it, it's not an unreasonable amount at all.

As for pensions? The fact that pensions are no longer provided in the private sector is really just a reflection of the corporations' focus on stockholder value rather than the well-being of non-executive workers. Pensions are an expense that is very painless for CEOs to do away with when their labor force isn't part of a union that can collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

And let's keep in mind that BART management has as big a role in contract negotiations as labor. If management agreed to contracts in the past that are unsustainable economically (an assertion that I am unwilling to stipulate to), why is it only labor that takes the blame?

stuffisthings (#1,352)

By my previous comment, I mean "what @ejcsanfran said"

foxbat91 (#9,832)

@Niko Bellic
Fair enough. UX designers and coders who make $150k to put words in boxes on your computer are more overpaid than transit workers. Agreed. But when a UX designer is overpaid that money comes out of the pocket of a Venture Capital firm staffed entirely by Tesla driving cheeseballs, and it doesn't impact a public service, so I don't really feel that my opinion matters there at all.

To be clear: I think the BART workers absolutely have a right to strike. I just don't think they should get everything they're asking for. The disappearance of defined-benefit pensions is not just a case of corporate greed (though I'm sure there's some in there). At the state level, and particularly in California. public pensions are massively underfunded – there is not nearly enough money in the funds to pay out all the promised benefits – and the state general fund is on the hook for any shortfalls. This is absolutely a failure of past management, and of the pension fund managers who held on to a ridiculously optimistic 8% estimate of annual growth for way too long. But it does have to be corrected, and you can't claw back the billions of required additional pension funds from managers who took the easy way out when negotiating contracts in 2005. So having BART workers pay into their pension seems like a not-ridiculous condition.

As for the 23% figure – yes, that's the opening gambit of one side of a negotiation. It's also all anyone has to go on for what the union will accept, so I think it's fair to cite it.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@foxbat91 If you think the working class should be paid more, and the bloodsuckers (and I'm not talking about engineers here, you know who I'm talking about) should be keeping less, then let it all shake out in negotiations. Transit workers do have more bargaining power than the rest of the working class, but all that means is that the rest needs to organize better. Now if that ends up squeezing the middle class, they should bring it up with the upper class. After all, that's where the money really is. We will not get far fighting for crumbs, trust me.

Non-Anonymous (#19,293)

@foxbat91 But are transit workers "overpaid" at all? How much should they make? There seems to be some sort of unspoken assumption in our society that public employees and blue-collar workers should only get a lower middle class salary at most.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

For 99% of Silicon Valley "meritocracy" = "get paid millions of dollars to fail at something and face no consequences."

ejcsanfran (#489)

Ms. Lacy also penned this trenchant and insightful piece.

And you thought SF cabs were bad? BART strike is crippling fledgling mid-market tech corridor

While not exactly the most creative response on my part, she can go right ahead and fuck herself.

“People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”

Dying to hear what upper-middle-class white dudes making overinflated salaries with stock options (and, as stuffisthings noted, no consequences) consider "working really hard."

ejcsanfran (#489)

@antarctica starts here: They do a lot of texting. A LOT.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@antarctica starts here You think getting born into a family that lives in a safe and prosperous neighborhood and can help you out with resources and connections (not to mention getting born into a country that is *not* Somalia or Mexico) was easy? It was HARD WORK!

KarenUhOh (#19)

I'l wait to hear why an industry built on the concept of full electronic connectivity requires any sort of commute.

libmas (#231)

@KarenUhOh No such thing as a three-martini Skype?

the teeth (#380)

@KarenUhOh The rye&Dolin-Manhattan-followed-by-Fernet Skype is alive & well.

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

@KarenUhOh: Possibly because it's less a meritocracy than a schmoozocracy. I'm not talking about engineers so much as people like Sarah Lacy, who tend to spend much of their lives in meetings. A couple of years ago, I spent six months in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It's quite a schmoozefest.

libmas (#231)

@Ralph Haygood I'm enjoying just looking at the word "schmoozocracy," and I hope you drank well at your schmoozefest.

ejcsanfran (#489)

"Excessive jury duty" – WTF? I get called for jury duty every couple of years and the process is easy – you're on call for a week, you check in every day to see if you have to appear, then once you appear and go through voir dire, you're either empaneled as a juror or released from service for at least a year.

And I've never had to appear for a criminal case, only civil. And we all know how reluctant the tech industry is to use the civil court system to settle their disputes…

melis (#1,854)

Should have read "any jury duty."

mishaps (#5,779)

You know, if we wait too long to have the revolution, these people are going to be too damn old to put up against the wall.

Smitros (#5,315)

@mishaps Walkers will help that.

hockeymom (#143)

@Smitros But not Scott Walker.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy."
The fact that someone so colossally stupid that she thinks that each and every one of us has exactly as much money as they are worth as a person (or even as a worker) – has a job (any kind of a job, let alone a career in tech industry) proves exactly the opposite.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

What union represents Awl employees and contributors?

I was a member of the Freelancer's Union! (Might still be, technically!)

deepomega (#1,720)

@Choire Sicha Like the catholic church, you gotta write a letter to a bishop to get out.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Lockheed Ventura Amateur Meteorologists, White Rap Critics, and Bear Fanciers Local #241 why?

scrooge (#2,697)

1. Replace BART workers with robots, LOL
2. Replace all other workers with robots, LOL
3. WTF – Nobody's buying anything!
4. Kleiner Perkins, you're not paying me enough, I'm going on strike
5. Burn Atlas Shrugged just to keep warm in SFO summer.
6. Let's campaign for a minimum guaranteed income for everybody

BadUncle (#153)

BART? I thought Silicon Valley workers all took these schmancy shuttle buses. FWIW, I'm just glad the strike ended when it did, because I never would have gotten out of SFO after the plane crash.

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