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Poll: Bay Area residents support ban on public transit strikes

San Jose Mercury News, December 13, 2013

By Matthias Gafni

In the liberal and pro-labor bastion that is the Bay Area, support for unions is waning, with a majority of voters believing public transit workers should lose the right to strike following this summer's BART work stoppages and labor strife, according to a Field Poll released Friday.

The poll also indicated Californians souring significantly on labor unions in general over the last 2 1/2 years, with 45 percent of registered voters polled saying unions do more harm than good. Forty percent viewed unions favorably.

Bay Area voters' support of unions also dropped, according to the poll, with 41 percent or respondents saying they do more harm than good -- up from a 30 percent unfavorable opinion in March 2011. But locally, 45 percent of those polled say unions do more good than harm.

"If you look across all the regions, the Bay Area (shows) the greatest opposition for the right to strike, which is kind of counterintuitive ... because the Bay Area has long been a region that labor unions have been perceived in a positive light," said Mark DiCamillo with The Field Poll. "It has to be related to the recent experience with two strikes and, now, the threat of a third strike."

The telephone poll was conducted from Nov. 14 through Dec. 5, in the days and weeks following the end to the second BART strike, with Bay Area commuters still seething over the resulting inconveniences and traffic nightmares. It also came as BART and its unions butted heads over a disputed Family Medical Leave clause in a tentative contract that could drag the labor stalemate into 2014.

The poll found 52 percent of Bay Area voters believe public transit workers should not be allowed to strike, compared to 41 percent who said unions should retain that bargaining tool. However, in California, voters still approve of the right to strike, 47 percent to 44 percent, with much of that support coming from Los Angeles County.

State Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar introduced legislation this week to bar public transit workers from striking -- restrictions that already apply to police officers and firefighters. A state Assembly candidate, Steve Glazer of Orinda, is collecting signatures for a ballot measure banning public transit strikes.

"I think it shows the concern the public has on transit work stoppages and the impact on riders and the general public," BART Director Joel Keller, who represents eastern Contra Costa County, said of the poll. "My thoughts on whether public transit workers should have the right to strike are evolving, and I'm moving toward a decision on what the right approach may be for the Bay Area and hope to announce it in the next month or so."

The leaders of BART's two largest unions were meeting with the transit agency Thursday to reach a resolution to the labor stalemate, and were unavailable for comment.

Steven Pitts, associate chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, expressed caution over the poll's findings, given its timing.

"I don't put a lot of stock into a question posed immediately after a high-profile labor dispute," Pitts said. "I would caution reading too much into a snapshot."

He said the lower union favorability numbers would likely be different had the poll been taken nine months ago, but that the numbers as they stand could be used to further politics in Sacramento.

Bay Area voters' overall attitudes toward labor remain positive, according to the poll, with 45 percent saying unions do more good than harm (41 percent of those asked said the opposite). However, in 2011, Bay Area voters had far warmer feelings toward unions, with 50 percent polled viewing unions favorably. Thirty percent said in 2011 unions do more harm than good.

Support for the ability to strike, and for unions in general, comes from core labor backers -- Democrats, non-partisans, liberals, union households, young voters, Latinos, African-Americans and those living in Los Angeles County, according to the poll. Opponents tend to be Republican, conservative, male, older, white non-Hispanics, and living in nonunion households and Southern California outside of Los Angeles County.

About 1,000 registered voters across the state were polled in English and Spanish.

 

Original Article

 

 
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