Tag: WMATA

Labor Unions Against the Public Interest

The folly of monopoly unionism (“collective bargaining”) in government is most evident when labor unions strike. Hundreds of thousands of San Francisco area residents are currently having their lives disrupted by union actions against the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. BART’s unions want higher wages:

The unions, which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff, want a 5 percent raise each year over the next three years. BART said train operators and station agents in the unions average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually.

Bloomberg says that BART workers receive annual benefits averaging $50,800, so these folks are well-paid. It is true that every worker in America would like higher pay. The difference is that most of us don’t have special government-created powers to cause city-wide damage when we ask for a raise.

Most Americans compete in the marketplace, which limits their power and encourages the provision of low-cost, high-quality services. But most government services are enforced monopolies, which breed inefficiency. Monopoly unions compound the inefficiencies, and lead to the sort of selfish, anti-consumer behavior this strike represents. By the way, the same thing happened to BART in 1997 “when a six-day shutdown jammed freeways and saddled workers with lengthier commutes.” 

Strikes are not the only problem caused by unions in government. Unions push up operating costs and generally reduce service quality. A Washington Post editor yesterday discussed union problems in D.C.’s Metro system after a conversation with the system’s manager, Richard Sarles:

If I had my druthers,’ [Sarles] said, he would hire station managers based on ‘the ability to operate in a customer-friendly way.’ But, Sarles said, Metro’s collective bargaining agreement requires him to promote bus drivers to train operators and station managers. In fact, his spokesman said, mediocre bus drivers may get promoted more quickly because ‘we need to get you from behind the wheel.’ And if someone does a great job as station manager, ‘I can’t recognize that financially,’ Sarles said. 

So here’s the “manager” of a government agency who doesn’t even have the authority to manage his own workforce. It is ironic that Metro and BART are called “public services,” but managers of private businesses are better able to actually serve the public. 

Here’s another curious thing: liberals and environmentalists are eager to get Americans out of their cars and into mass transit, but their left-of-center friends—the unions—work against those goals. Unions push up the costs of transit and reduce service quality, which encourages people to stay in their cars. Furthermore, cars won’t go on strike against commuters like government workers will. 

About the current strike, BART spokesman Rick Rice said: “About 400,000 commuters use BART every day in the San Francisco Bay area … The public doesn’t deserve to be punished.” He’s right, but citizens are being punished everyday in cities across the nation because of the misguided idea of union-dominated, government-run transit. 

You may be interested to know that before the 1960s, most urban rail and bus transit in America was provided by the private sector. So we certainly don’t need labor unions in mass transit—and we may not even need the government. 

Further reading:

Jeff McKay: Cavalier About Violating Metro Riders’ Liberties, Spending Taxpayer Dollars

In a blog post of righteousness last week, I assailed Fairfax County (Virginia) Supervisor Jeff McKay for his failure to comprehend basic security principles as they pertain to the Metro system.

A Washington Examiner reporter retrieved McKay’s response:

[H]e laughed. But he quickly defended his stance, saying that random searches were recommended by the U.S. Transportation Security Association, the D.C. Police, and WMATA management.

“I trust the intelligence agencies when they tell me there’s a reason to do this,” he said.

McKay admitted that bag searches likely wouldn’t stop someone intent on causing mass destruction to the Metrorail, but that they will make passengers much more aware of security concerns.

Supervisor McKay was not flip about these issues at the meeting of the Metro board. He spoke about the bag search policy in terms of his moral duty to make the Metro system safe.

But it turns out he can’t defend the validity of bag searches as a security measure. He admits he’s just doing what he’s told, and he sees it as a way to keep Metro riders on edge. The taxpayer money spent on bag searches is pure waste. Interesting moral universe.

Jeff McKay: A Limp Rag Masquerading as a Terror Warrior

This afternoon I briefly attended a meeting of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board to comment on the question whether there should be random bag searches in the D.C. area’s subway system. A variety of other liberty loving D.C.-area residents spoke up against bag searches, noting the weakness of the practice in terms of security, the privacy consequences, and the insult to Metro riders in treating all as suspects. The chairman of the Riders Advisory Council asked that the program be suspended.

Along with restating the security weakness of random bag searches—it simply transfers risk from one station to another, from the subway to busses, or from the Metro system to other infrastructure—I emphasized the strategic consequences of the policy:

Terrorists try to instill fear and drive victim states to over-reaction. They try to knock us off our game. The appropriate response is not to give in to fear-based impulses. Obviously, we can and do secure what can cost-effectively be secured. And where infrastructure can’t be secured specifically, many other layers of security are protecting the society as a whole—aware people, ordinary law enforcement, targeted lawful investigation of terror suspects, and international intelligence and diplomatic efforts.

WMATA can play a part in our security, but in a very different way than by making a great show of desperately searching passengers. Refusing the bag search policy can signal to D.C. area residents and the nation that we are relatively secure, because we are. Al Qaeda is on the run, and the franchises it inspired are generally incompetent.

When America’s capital city abandons bag searching, it will be a small but important signal that terrorism doesn’t knock us off our game. Consistency in this message over time will weaken terrorism and ultimately reduce terror attacks from their already low numbers.

There will never be perfect security, but security measures that cost more than they benefit our security make us worse off, not better off. They make us victims of terrorism’s strategic logic.

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay disagrees. An alternate member of the WMATA board, he is the picture of the politician  in thrall to terrorism. During the discussion of the Riders Advisory Council report, he stated—as a moral obligation, no less—that he should assume the existence of substantial threats to the Metro system because some authorities claim secret knowledge to that effect.

Whether there are threats or not, this does not respond at all to the point that random bag searches would not address them. Again, they transfer risk from one Metro station to another, from Metro stations to Metro busses, or from the Metro system to other infrastructure in the D.C. area.

We often joke about politicians who say “something must be done; this is something; this must be done,” but when you see it live and in person, it’s really stupid.

McKay seemed to take righteous pride in abdicating his responsibility to understand basic security principles as they pertain to the Metro system. He did note the bind that the board is in. They’re damned if they do bag searches because of the complaints from the community, and they’re damned if they don’t because something bad might happen.

McKay’s choice is to spend the money of District-area governments and undercut the civil liberties of Metro riders so that, in the unlikely event a terror attack occurs, his political career is protected. He can say “I tried to stop it with bag searches.” Never mind that it was an ineffective measure.

McKay thinks he’s doing the right thing, but that doesn’t excuse his being a patsy to the terrorism strategy. He’s a limp rag, abdicating his security responsibility while pretending that he fights terrorism.