BART strike delayed again as negotiations drag on 

click to enlarge BART
  • Ben Margot/AP
  • BART trains will be running today after a strike was delayed again late Tuesday.
It’s a new day, but there’s still no BART deal. However, your train will be arriving shortly.

Labor negotiations failed to produce a contract agreement again late Tuesday, but BART workers will stay on the job as talks continued into this morning.

George Cohen, the federal government’s top mediator, appeared in front of the Caltrans building in downtown Oakland about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to deliver a brief statement that contained all the Bay Area wanted to know.

“In support of the public interest and all the riders in this area, there will be train service all day tomorrow,” Cohen said.

As for progress toward a deal between BART and its unions, Cohen would only say that “some progress” had been made and “bargaining continues.”

Neither BART management nor its unions gave any more information by press time. On Sunday, BART made its “last, best and final” offer — a 3 percent raise each year for the next four years, with 4 percent of paychecks contributed to employee pensions and a 9.5 percent increase in the $92 flat monthly rate employees pay for health care.

That package is more generous than what most private sector workers receive — and perhaps “too much,” said BART Director Zakhary Mallett, who issued a brief statement Tuesday night calling on the unions to concede. “The public is not on their side,” he said.

Details of the unions’ most recent counteroffer, issued late Monday, are unknown aside from asking for a three-year deal instead of management’s four.

Frontline BART workers take home about $63,000 a year on average, plus overtime and benefits. They currently pay $95 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions.

The unions say management’s latest offer would leave earnings flat after four years of no increases in pay in an increasingly expensive Bay Area.

While riders’ nerves are frayed and patience exhausted with the drawn-out drama, Tuesday was a sedate affair compared to Monday night’s brinksmanship.

The unions issued a warning that a strike would start at midnight Monday, and a work stoppage seemed certain as that deadline approached —and passed — with no deal in place.

But the unions gave no notice of a strike Tuesday, and the workers who waved picket signs and chanted Monday were not on hand for a second day.

Negotiations for a new contract began April 1; the old one expired June 30.

BART is seeking savings from labor — projected to cost about $400 million out of a $1.6 billion budget for the current fiscal year — to help pay for billions of dollars’ worth of system upgrades over the next decade, which will also require ballot-box attempts at sales-tax increases or bond measures.

The same riders whose patience is wearing thin could be asked to fund BART fixes at the ballot as early as next year.

Labor drama in 2009 ended when BART employees agreed to $100 million in givebacks at the height of the financial crisis to cover a projected BART budget deficit that never materialized.

BART has an operating surplus of about $100 million a year, which the agency mostly uses to fund capital needs.

Workers went on a 4½-day strike that ended July 5.

BART is the nation’s fifth-largest transit system, handling an average of 400,000 weekday boardings.

Federal brass

Negotiations between BART and its two biggest unions have shown some progress since the federal government’s top mediator stepped into the fray.

Who: George Cohen

Title: Director of federal mediation and conciliation service

Appointed by: President Barack Obama, October 2009

Role: Office was created through the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act to provide a third-party role to solve high-profile labor disputes that also threaten the economy.

Other work before BART: NFL-NFL Players Association, 2011; NBA lockout, 2011; New York Metropolitan Opera strike, 2011

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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