BART remains the busiest public transit system in the U.S. that does not have a worker strike ban in place, and the route to blocking that right could be a long journey.
The only four agencies busier than BART — the New York City Transit Authority, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Chicago Transit Authority and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority — have had strike restrictions in place for decades. Muni workers in San Francisco also cannot strike under the City Charter.
BART workers' contract has a no-strike clause, but it's fair game once it expires, said transit agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost. That's what happened in early July during the 4½-day work stoppage.
Transit management and its two largest unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — are currently in a 60-day cooling-off period after contract negotiations have repeatedly failed to produce a new agreement.
Gov. Jerry Brown helped secure the cooling-off period, which runs through midnight Oct. 10, but neither he nor any other politician has stepped forward with a strong stance on a strike ban.
"We expect all parties to think of the public, stay at the table and get this resolved without delay," Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said recently.
The only politician to broach the topic of a strike ban has been state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who said earlier this month that he was looking into legislation that could prevent further strikes. However, DeSaulnier said that should not distract from the need for both BART and the unions to continue negotiating.
"The intent of any legislation will not be to simply stop strikes, but to ensure we produce equitable outcomes for workers and commuters during future negotiations," DeSaulnier said in a statement.
A spokesman for state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said it's unlikely the San Francisco Democrat would endorse a strike ban.
"He's a strong supporter of labor and the right to organize, and the right to strike is pretty integral for a labor organization to achieve its goal and protect its members, so I wouldn't see him going for that," spokesman Carlos Alcala said.
BART's board of directors covers three counties and the system traverses four, but that plays no role in why laws prohibiting a strike have never been enacted, according to Trost.
Only state legislation can prohibit a BART strike.
Cities such as San Francisco that prohibit transit strikes instead offer unions interest arbitration in which unsolved issues are brought to a third-party arbitrator for a final resolution.
Representatives for BART's unions said they are against such an arrangement.
"The third party has no invested interest in the outcome," said Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555. "Negotiations with two parties sitting across from each other and coming to an agreement is important."
SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli said the union has tried to come to an agreement amicably and that strikes are often the only action that moves along negotiations.
"We were making progress when the governor stepped in," Castelli said. "If there's not a possibility of using a strike in our toolbox, we could be bargaining for years. The right to strike is a last resort. You take away that right and we wouldn't have a voice."