BART strike reveals tech, transit worker divide

The BART strike has laid bare a tricky cultural divide in the Bay Area, between traffic-weary tech workers who drive the local economy, and blue collar transit workers who feel left behind.

When thousands of BART workers went on strike this week over salaries, benefits, and safety concerns and shut down the San Francisco Bay Area’s main public transit system, the news made national headlines.

The strike also laid bare a tricky cultural divide in the Bay Area, between traffic-weary tech workers who drive the local economy, and blue collar transit workers who feel left behind.

Tech workers bring lots of change to San Francisco Twitter headquarters has lured other companies to a stretch of Market Street. The city's economy is growing, but not everyone benefits.

A BART worker's base salary is about $60,000 a year. Sounds pretty good, but it’s less than the $74,341 a family of four needs to get by in the pricey Bay Area, according to a recent study by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, based in Oakland. 

BART train operator Eddie Turner, who was picketing earlier this week, said as the local tech industry booms and drives up the cost of living, workers like him, who haven’t gotten a raise since 2009, should get a boost too.

“BART is running a surplus,” Turner said. “This system works and we are the people who make it work.”

But plenty of the people who depend on the BART system to get to work, see things differently. 

Richard White is the CEO of a San Francisco tech company called UserVoice. He was on a plane somewhere over Arkansas when he emailed me a recording he’d made on his iphone (a surreal feat made possible thanks in large part to Bay Area tech innovations), describing his feelings about the strike. 

He called it a fiasco, snarling traffic and wasting hours of dozens of his staff's time. And while he said he had sympathy for BART workers not getting a raise in four years, he didn’t have that much sympathy.

“One of the guys on our team said he's putting in his two-weeks notice once he found out what he could make working for BART,” White said, joking. His solution to address those disgruntled BART workers? “Get ‘em back to work, pay them whatever they want, and then figure out how to automate their jobs so this doesn't happen again.” 

Transportation Nation Marketplace's ongoing coverage of transportation issues around the nation are part of the Transportation Nation public radio project.

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.” 

But BART worker Kay Wilson, who was on strike this week, said she was doing what made sense for any working person, in a tech job or a transit job -- trying to make a living in an expensive region. "I make no apologies for wanting to go to work, do my job well, and get paid for that," she said.  

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.
Log in to post34 Comments


very interesting post.this is my first time visit here.i found so mmany interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion..thanks for the post! http://trinitycs.cz

Hey what a brilliant post I have come across and believe me I have been searching out for this similar kind of post for past a week and hardly came across this. Thank you very much and will look for more postings from you. http://www.abc-home.co.uk

Sign the petition to ban BART strikes. Help out those of us who have no other options. We need RELIABLE transit in the Bay Area.


I only wish my husband or I earned $60,000 a year as a base salary. I am a Licensed Vocational Nurse who holds a license and has to renew that license and earns a decent hourly rate of $28. And my husband is a Postal Carrier, who earns about $54,000 a year and that is including benefits, except he does not have medical or dental thru them, due to the high cost of over $500 a month for an HMO. And as many of you may not know, postal carriers do not get 2 days off in a roll, even though he has worked for more than 28 years. And unlike these crying BART workers, who do not have to pay a penny for a pension, postal workers don't even get that. The only postal employees who get pensions, are those hired before 1983. Postal Carriers have a 401K, which they contribute to, and only hope they have enough money put away when they retire. So all you spoiled BART employees, who think you have it so bad, you need to be thankful to GOD, that you even have jobs. Most people would be happy to have a job making much less than you. Let alone be greedy people, who most of you probably have no college education at all. My child has to have a Master Degree for her job here in the Bay Area, and will only earn about $65,000 a year. What makes you BART employees think you are so entitled when most Californian's and most American's have had take pay cuts, increases in our medical costs and no pay raises in 5 years. Stop acting like spoied children and get back to work. If BART management was smart, they'd fire all of you, and rehire people who are happy to just have a job.

If your dear little child has a masters and earns only $65K a year then they should have chosen a better subject. Lot's of people with degrees try to workat BARt but most don;t pass the testing period because they cannot handle the pressure, it's a little bit harder than the cushy private sector world where you start when you want and finish when you want

Why do tech workers think they are so necessary. "You work really hard to create something" What, like a webiste where I can show people my latest photograpghs of my dog? Sad life you people have where you think you are actually necessary. At least BART workers actually do something on a day to day basis

A little comparison to ponder: Average BART union worker gross pay (no college required)- $76.5k
Median annual pay public interest attorney (7 yrs. college) - $65k
source: NALP
Median annual pay teacher (4 yrs. college) - $52k
source: money.usnews.com
Median annual pay social worker (4-6 yrs. college) - $40k
source: money.usnews.com

It is time for the commuters to do something. We should propose to ban the strike of public transportation workers. They are just using us as hostages to fulfill their greediness.


With Generous Support From...