As clock ticks, little movement in BART talks 

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A date for a settlement in BART's labor dispute remains unclear, as both sides are "tens of millions of dollars apart" and no negotiation sessions are currently scheduled.

Since a judge Sunday approved Gov. Jerry Brown's request for a 60-day cooling-off period — which can only happen once — BART and its two largest unions now have until early October to come to terms on a new labor contract.

If no deal is made, the Bay Area could be forced to go through another strike like the one that stretched half-hour commutes into hours-long slogs for four-plus days in early July.

And considering the months of fruitless negotiations that have taken place thus far, labor experts say it's unclear a settlement will be reached in time to avoid another work stoppage.

"You've already had all this time," said John Logan, a professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University. "What reason do we have to expect another 60 days will make a difference?"

BART has a $1.62 billion budget for the current fiscal year, records show, and $400.6 million of that is spent on labor. BART management says it needs labor savings to pay for $6 billion in system improvements over the next decade, but unions point to $156 million in fare-box and tax revenue directed to capital needs as proof that BART can afford requested raises.

A recent development might have an impact on the negotiations — and may make BART workers even less inclined to take a deal that, in their estimation, leaves wages flat following $100 million in compensation given back in 2009.

Workers for the East Bay's AC Transit bus system — which has less revenue and fewer infrastructure needs than BART — agreed on a contract Aug. 6 that promises a 9.5 percent raise over three years, plus monthly health care premiums of $70, $140 and $180 each year, with no withdrawal from paychecks to cover pensions.

BART employees do not pay into their pensions thanks to a deal hammered out with management in the 1980s in exchange for deferred raises.

BART is currently offering a 10 percent raise over four years and a 1 percent employee pension contribution that grows annually to 4 percent by the last year of the contract.

That's still "tens of millions of dollars" apart from the unions' current offer, said BART spokesman Rick Rice, who declined to offer further specifics. Service Employees International Union Local 1021 representatives did not return calls for comment Wednesday. The other union involved in the labor dispute is Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.

BART's current offer on health care is to pay up to the cost of a Kaiser Permanente or a Blue Shield family plan, whichever is cheaper (both hover around $2,000 a month). An employee seeking more expensive coverage would have to pay the difference.

Even if accepted at the bargaining table, that kind of deal would be rejected by union members when presented for approval, union officials say.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

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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