2012 is a big year for the Golden Gate Bridge.
Not only is this the iconic Bay Area landmark's 75th anniversary, but on the morning of May 1, the bridge will celebrate another milestone--it's going to get occupied.
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Precisely what that occupation will look like is as of yet unclear. It could be anything from a non-disruptive protest in the parking lot to a strike by the toll-takers or even a large-scale, people-powered forced closure of the bridge, bringing rush hour to a screeching halt.
While the action carries the explicit imprint of the Occupy movement, the upcoming bridge occupation has more to do with a labor dispute than it does with overthrowing the global financial elite.
Since last year, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, the organization tasked with overseeing the bridge as well the Golden Gate Transit ferry and bus system, has been locked in heated negotiations with a coalition representing over a dozen labor unions whose nearly 400 members work for the district.
At issue are a number of concessions the district wants in its new contract with union employees that the coalition is unwilling to make. According to International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (Local 21) spokesperson Alex Tonisson, the coalition agreed to cuts in salary; however, refused to budge on the issue of benefits.
"We understand the economic situation the district's in and we've agreed to $2 million worth of concessions," Tonisson told The Huffington Post. "But, as an ideological issue, the district is trying to shift the cost of healthcare onto workers and their families as well as reducing benefits for retirees."
District spokesperson Mary Currie disputed the accuracy of the union's $2 million figure, saying that it had "nothing to do with reality."
The bridge's management is pushing for the incorporation of "premium sharing" into the union contracts, wherein workers would be required to pay out of pocket up to 8.5 percent of medical premiums previously paid by their employer, along with a change in the system for administering medical benefits to retired employees.
This inability to come to an agreement had led to the bridge's union workforce operating without a contract in place since last summer.
During that time, the bridge's considerably smaller number of non-union employees have received a salary increase, something that Tonisson called, "a classic union-busing technique."
The coalition has already engaged in a handful of public actions against the stalled negotiations, primarily participating in "informational picketing sessions" in front of the bridge's series of 75th anniversary events at places like the California Historical Society and the Pacific Orchid Exhibition. However, the May 1 action will almost undoubtedly be on a much larger scale than what's come before. The coalition has already received permission to strike from its governing labor organizations, meaning it could call for a work stoppage if it chose to do so.
If a strike is called, Occupy groups on both sides of the Bay have pledged to jump into the action and attempt to take control of the one of the world's most famous bridges. In a statement released last week, Occupy Oakland threatened to "shut down all modes of transportation from Marin to San Francisco."
"If the bridge management can't treat their workers right, we're going to shut down traffic on the bridge for a day," said Occupy San Francisco organizer Marcus Krychka, who noted that Occupy became involved in the dispute when a small handful of rank-and-file union members brought the issue to movement's attention. "However, we're taking leadership from the union. If there's no action on their part, there will be none on ours."
"We understand commuters are part of the 99 percent," Krychka added, "which is why we started heavily publicizing this action early to make sure that as many people know about it ahead of time."
Even with this looming threat, district officials aren't telling commuters to take a sick day on May 1 just yet. Instead, they're waiting to see exactly what shape the protest is going to ultimately take before issuing any traffic advisories. They are also urging the unions to reconsider taking any actions that would close the bridge to through traffic.
"We want to tell the unions to let Occupy know that there could be serious public safety issues if the bridge is shut down," Currie told HuffPost. "There are people who need to use the bridge get to the airport, people who need it to get to hospitals."
Check out a slideshow of our favorite images of the bridge below:
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