BART and its unions will have only a few weeks to resolve their months-old labor dispute when negotiations over pay and benefits finally resume Sept. 17, almost five weeks into a court-imposed 60-day cooling-off period.
And continuing the hostile tone that has marked the transit agency's negotiations with its 3,200 union workers — which led to the agency's first strike in 16 years in early July — attorneys for the two largest unions last week accused BART of violating the terms of the court order, according to a letter sent to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
BART's offer Aug. 10 — the night before the cooling-off period requested by Gov. Jerry Brown was imposed — remains its "final offer," according to an Aug. 16 email from Thomas P. Hock, the Ohio-based lawyer hired by BART to negotiate with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the agency's two largest unions.
Hock told union negotiators to present the package — which union officials say amounts to a cut in pay and would be roundly rejected by workers — to membership for a vote before any further bargaining could take place. Attorneys for the unions blasted the demand as an "unfair labor practice," and no negotiations have taken place since then.
Negotiations began in spring. The two sides remain tens of millions of dollars apart — and cannot be counted on to agree just how far apart they are, as was revealed in front of a special panel convened by Brown earlier this month.
State mediators expressed interest in meeting Aug. 22, but BART management did not release union workers from their jobs on the transit system in time, union representatives said Tuesday.
Instructing the unions to vote on a proposal and not scheduling meetings are "violation[s] not only of the spirit and the intent, but the letter" of the 60-day cooling-off period, labor attorney Vincent Harrington wrote in the Aug. 21 letter to the attorney general.
Harris' office did not respond directly to the unions, but some dates for negotiations have been set for "the week after next," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Tuesday.
However, the two sides are not scheduled to resume talks on the major sticking points — wage increases, employee health care costs and pensions — until Sept. 17, according to Leah Berlanga, SEIU Local 1021's chief negotiating officer.
The 60-day cooling-off period, during which the unions are prohibited from striking, expires Oct. 10. After that time, external forces — such as the governor — are out of options to prevent another strike like the 4½-day work stoppage from July 1 to 5.
Window for a contract
• Aug. 11: Court orders 60-day cooling off-period in negotiations between BART, unions
• Oct. 10. Cooling-off period expires, opening possibility of another strike