OAKLAND — Labor leaders say BART and its biggest unions could soon agree on a new contract and avoid a second strike, but one observer called that assessment "optimistic" Wednesday since the transit agency and its workers can't even agree on basic math.
The agency and its unions have been deadlocked over a new labor contract for months. To stave off a second strike, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a three-person panel on Sunday to examine the negotiations. The panel is set to give Brown a report by Sunday.
A second strike could come as soon as Monday unless what negotiator Josie Mooney of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 called "the worst" negotiation sessions "I've ever been a part of" can end in an agreement. But the two sides are still far apart on wage hikes and contributions toward health and pension benefits.
The governor's committee heard both sides Wednesday and noted that the two sides struggle to agree on even basic issues. BART says the gap between its proposal and what its unions want is $100 million over four years. The unions say the difference is closer to $56 million.
The two sides also disagree on average employee pay. The average compensation for BART workers is $79,500, according to BART; unions say it's closer to $66,000.
"It's disappointing that they can't even agree on math," said Jacob Appelsmith, a special adviser to Brown and chairman of the committee he appointed to examine the negotiations.
Workers note that they relinquished $100 million in compensation in 2009, and say that BART's proposal — a wage increase coupled with bigger employee contributions for benefits — leaves wages flat.
Such differences suggest that hoping for an agreement by Sunday is "very optimistic," said committee member Robert Balgenorth, a member of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.
Brown could impose a 60-day cooling-off period, which would put off the next possible strike to October. Or the unions could give a 72-hour notice of another strike today.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today.
BART says it needs employee givebacks to fund capital projects, like buying new railcars and building a maintenance yard and control center. BART officials also said the transit system "cannot afford to provide" its benefits package unless employees begin paying more.
BART has a $1.5 billion budget. Compensation for its 3,425 employees is $401 million. BART's employees pay $92 a month for health care and do not have money taken out of their checks to cover pensions. They do not receive Social Security, and BART covers their pension costs under a deal cut with the district in the 1980s.
Unions note that BART uses more than $100 million in passenger fares and regional sales taxes every year to fund capital projects like debt on the Oakland airport connector — money that could easily cover the difference between the two sides.
BART has warned that passenger fares will rise by double digits if management acquiesces to union demands. Officials have not said how it plans to pay for the wage increases it has proposed. However, fares will rise Jan. 1 regardless of what happens at the negotiating table. BART will also need to ask voters to pass a new sales tax or a general obligation bond in order to pay for system upgrades, which it could do as early as November 2014.Let's (hopefully) make a deal
BART and its labor unions have been negotiating unsuccessfully since April 1 over terms for a new labor contract.
BART proposes ...
•A four-year contract
•Raises: 2%, 2%, 2.5%, 2.5%
•Health benefit contributions: 6%, 8%, 9%, 10%
•Pension contributions: 2%, 3%, 4%, 5%
Unions propose ...
•A three-year contract
•Raises: 5% plus cost-of-living hike, for an increase of up to 7.2%
•Health benefit contributions: 5% increase in co-pays
•Pension contributions: 7%AC Transit bus union says deal reached, no strike
Drivers, dispatchers and other workers for AC Transit reached a tentative agreement with their employer late Tuesday, avoiding a strike that threatened to affect hundreds of thousands of bus commuters, union officials said.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 and AC Transit struck the deal shortly before midnight, when the union had vowed to go on strike. It gives about 1,800 workers a 9.5 percent raise over the course of the three-year deal, with employees contributing to their medical benefits.
"This agreement protects workers, helps riders and keeps service running," said Yvonne Williams, president of ATU Local 192.
The deal still has to be ratified by the rank-and-file workers this month.
"It's a credit to both sides that we were able to negotiate without a lot of grandstanding," AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said.
The bus system serves about 180,000 passengers each weekday. AC Transit drivers are paid an average salary of $55,000 a year, Johnson said.— The Associated Press