News Column

San Francisco's BART Workers Strike

Jul 1 2013 6:13AM
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After a breakdown in contract talks Sunday evening, BART workers are on strike.

About 15 workers from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 announced at midnight that their contact had expired without a new offer from BART, and then they walked across the street to start picketing at the Lake Merritt BART station.

There were a couple of motorists driving by who honked their horns in recognition of the strike, the first at BART since 1997, which lasted six days.

Trains will not run for the Monday morning commute, which could be a nightmare of gridlock and longer travel times.

"We're on strike. We're disappointed BART didn't make a new offer," said Antonette Bryant, president of ATU

Local 1555.

Negotiators for BART's two largest employee unions left a bargaining session in Oakland late Sunday, after saying they wanted BART to improve its latest proposal made Saturday. But BART was expecting unions to make a counter proposal.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said state mediators presiding over the talks left after union representatives.

Bryant said, "We didn't walk out. BART told us they had nothing new to give us. There was no reason to stay."

However, she said her union would be ready to resume bargaining if BART made a new offer.

The strike will idle a train system that carries riders on 400,000 trips per weekday in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties -- with nearly half of those trips made between the East Bay and San Francisco.

Transit officials urged the public to check media reports and to find out if there is a strike, and to be prepared to make greater use of carpools, buses and telecommuting.

Simply getting permission to drive to work later and avoid the morning and afternoon rush hours is another way to cope, transit planners suggested.

James Crayton, of Oakland, a retired Alameda County janitor, said he didn't think BART workers should go on strike.

"They're public employees offering a public service. I don't think they should strike," he said.

Crayton said the strike would make it harder for him to get around because he does not own a car and would have to take buses or get rides from friends.

During negotiations earlier Sunday, Trost said they were prepared to meet all night about workers' pay, and health and pension benefits.

The two sides had returned to the bargaining table about 3:30 p.m. Sunday after representatives of Gov. Jerry Brown urged them to resume talks overseen by state mediators.

Brown did not plan to use his authority to call a 60-day cooling off period that could delay a potential strike until Labor Day weekend when the Bay Bridge may be closed to prepare for opening of the new eastern span of the bridge, his spokesman said.

"BART and its labor unions owe the public a swift resolution of their differences," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor. "All parties should be at the table to do their best to find common ground.'

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee on Sunday afternoon had urged BART and its union to keep talking to avoid disruption to passengers and the economy.

"A strike would negatively impact our entire regional economy," Lee said.

Talks had resumed in Caltrans regional headquarters in downtown Oakland at the suggestion of a mediator who said the new setting was more neutral

than the previous location a few blocks away at BART headquarters. Media were kept outside the building.

The negotiations didn't go well Saturday between BART and its two biggest unions, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

Union bargaining teams left BART headquarters about 4:15 p.m. Saturday, saying they were fed up waiting for a new BART offer they expected much earlier in the day.

BART officials later said they came up with a new, more generous offer but there were no union leaders around to deliver it to in person.

So BART officials said they emailed the unions an offer that would boost worker pay 8 percent over four years, more than the previous offer of 4 percent over four years. In addition, the offer would reduce the requested employee contribution toward benefits.

In an email Sunday afternoon to union members, the union bargaining team derided the BART offer and suggested workers would not be better off overall because BART's offered pay increase would be offset by requested increases in employee contributions toward health and pension benefits.

BART employees currently pay nothing toward their state pensions and pay $92 per month toward their health insurance -- a blue chip benefit that BART management says is out of line with deals at other agencies.

In the email to members Sunday, the unions said the BART contract offer on Saturday amounted to "an illusory wage increase."

BART officials disagreed.

The current BART labor contract was scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Since no deal was reached, train operators, mechanics, station operators, electricians and others said they would finish any work shifts that lasted past midnight, but not show up for the Monday morning commute.

Commuters could have faced even more trouble if AC Transit bus drivers and mechanics strike as well since their contract also expired at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

But leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 said Sunday they intend to give at least 24 hours public notice before striking, and they hadn't given that notice Sunday evening as contract negotiations continued with management, said Sharon Cornu, a spokeswoman for Local 192.

ATU represents 1,760 AC Transit employees whose bus system handles more than 200,000 passenger trips a day.

Cornu said that if BART workers strike, AC Transit union leaders would assess Monday whether big crowds trying to squeeze onto buses created a safety risk to bus drivers and passengers.

Source: (c)2013 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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