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For contract talks, BART and its unions take the information superhighway 

Wednesday, Jun 3 2009

While its riders may feel at times stuck in a time warp — with tinny voices straight out of Tron announcing train arrivals and a transit network left largely untouched since 1972 — BART is strictly 21st-century when it comes to labor negotiations with its five unions.

One of those five, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), has had Web presence for some months at Powered by blog software, the union's blue-collar offering strives to answer questions like, "Why did the operator close the doors on me?" and tells readers how many hours of training station agents receive (400).

Meanwhile, BART management rolled out its own Web site last month. The slick contains well-produced video, an array of photos (including one of a group of BART workers, three working on rails and one watching) and a slew of handy facts. Did you know that the average employee makes more than $120,000 a year in salary and benefits? That's what it says on management's Web site. No wonder BART is running a $250 million deficit!

It's not uncommon during contract talks for management and labor to take their fight to the Web. In fact, in anticipation of a contract showdown, BART execs claimed the URLs and last year.

That irks Jesse Hunt, ATU Local 1555's president. "The name alone is badly misleading," he said. "It pretends to represent the views of labor by its name itself. ... If anyone should be using [that Web site], it should be us." Hunt said the union is in the process of "fact-checking" BART's site, but added that depending on how management uses it, could poison the waters for a long time to come.

"Once the contract is done, [labor and management] need to have a good working relationship," he said. "This kind of thing does not help that. It's unfortunate."

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said the site's main purpose is to allow management to "put out the facts" directly to riders. That could mean correcting "blatantly false" union statements, telling riders what to do in case of a strike, or doing reporters' jobs for them. "Who knows what the next 30 days will hold?" he said. "You can't always depend on the media to get the message."

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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