|Lena Tam, left, is challenging BART Board Director Robert Raburn. A third candidate, Lionel Larry Young, Jr. ran for Oakland mayor four years ago; finishing last.|
BART BOARD OF DIRECTORS | DISTRICT 4 | When a pair of BART strikes brought the Bay Area to a standstill last year, Robert Raburn, one of the transit agency’s elected board members, found himself in an unfamiliar place. After years of leading the East Bay Bike Coalition to prominence, he had parlayed his progressive credentials into a seat on the BART board in 2010. But during the tumultuous 2013 labor dispute between BART management and its striking unions, Raburn sided with management and was suddenly no longer viewed as being quite so progressive. And that decision could cost him his seat this fall on the BART Board of Directors, representing Alameda and portions of Oakland and San Leandro. Organized labor is now strongly backing his challenger, Alameda city Councilmember Lena Tam.
In some politically moderate regions of the Bay Area, political races have focused in part this year on whether BART unions should be banned from going on strike, but that question has barely registered a mention in this liberal district. Raburn, Tam, and a third candidate, Lionel Larry Young, Jr. who ran for Oakland mayor in 2010, all believe that banning transit workers from striking is a bad idea. And they agree that the best way to limit the likelihood of a strike in the future is by fostering better communication between labor and management before contract negotiations begin. Yet despite their agreement on these issues, there is no doubt that Raburn’s policy positions during the BART strike last year are the main issue of contention in this race.
“This last year was bitter in that I feel like I was unfairly labeled” as being anti-union, said Raburn in an interview. He said the six-month ordeal last year was the “most intense moment” of his life. Raburn said he felt intimidated by the anger that emanated from both sides of the dispute. “It’s not like you’re elected just to serve the passengers and your constituents, you have these two bodies— management and labor — that want something from you.” Raburn said his goal during negotiations was simply to gain a long-term, sustainable plan for BART. Union officials, though, contend that Raburn betrayed them. “I became persona non grata real fast with the union because I didn’t say, ‘Oh, I’ll watch your back.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to listen to all sides.'”…