BART strike looms as unions, management remain far apart on new contract 

click to enlarge SEIU Local 1021 President John Arantes and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant speak to the media. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • SEIU Local 1021 President John Arantes and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant speak to the media.

BART's first strike in 16 years could be approved today, as the transit agency's management and unionized workers are still far apart on finalizing a new labor contract before the current agreement expires Sunday.

Employee contributions toward pensions and health care costs are the main sticking points between the five unions and BART management in their monthslong battle, both sides said Monday.

BART's unions will vote today on whether to authorize a strike. If a strike is approved and no contract is signed before the end of the month, BART workers could continue to work without a contract.

They also could elect to strike, which would leave the regional transit system's 400,000 daily riders looking for other ways to get around.

Negotiations over a new contract continued Monday but will pause today for the vote, a BART spokeswoman said. Talks will resume Wednesday.

BART workers last walked off the job in 1997. That strike lasted six days.

Management says $6 billion in key capital improvements, such as new train cars and a general overhaul of the 41-year-old transit network, cannot happen unless the agency's roughly 2,220 workers begin contributing to their own pension plans and pay more for their health care.

When factoring in the cost of benefits in addition to wages, the average BART worker takes home about $133,000 a year, according to Paul Oversier, BART's deputy director of operations.

BART employees — who, like California public school teachers, do not contribute toward or receive federal Social Security — currently do not pay into their pension plans.

"Let me repeat that," Oversier said Monday at a news conference at BART's Oakland headquarters, "not one penny."

Management has proposed workers begin contributing 7 percent of their paychecks to their pensions, according to union officials, and has proposed salary increases of 4 percent over the next four years.

The unions — which include Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 transit operators, station agents and other workers; and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents about 1,400 mechanics — want salary increases totaling 23.5 percent over the next three years, and are holding out for a lower employee contribution toward pensions.

"They haven't given us any proposals on pensions that are comparable to other jurisdictions," said Leah Berlanga, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1021. "They need to propose something we can work with."

Workers voted to approve a strike in 2009, but that work stoppage was averted when a new labor agreement was signed.

A state mediator stepped in last week in hopes of speeding up negotiations.

In the event of a strike, BART could charter buses for "very limited" service or open parking lots to carpoolers, according to Alicia Trost, a BART spokeswoman. No other Bay Area transit system could absorb BART's ridership alone.

Suit says BART management put employees at risk

BART's contract negotiations took a legal turn Monday when the transit agency's two largest unions sued management, alleging that a failure to negotiate "in good faith" has put BART passengers and workers at risk.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court, came in the last week of contract negotiations before BART workers' contract expires Sunday and a day before BART workers are scheduled to vote on whether to authorize a strike.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents BART's 900 transit operators and station agents, and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents the agency's 1,400 mechanics and other workers, filed the suit because management is refusing to "bargain in good faith," officials said.

Meanwhile, workplace violence is on the rise, union officials claim.

There were 51 "trauma-related injuries" in and around BART stations in 2012, ranging from shootings to suicides, according to a union claim.

BART's unions also allege that 30 station agents were assaulted on the job during the first four months of 2013. There were 30 reported assaults throughout all of 2009, according to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.

A BART spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday, saying the agency had not seen the filings, but did add that the lawsuit "divert[s] attention from the real issues of increasing pension and medical costs."

"These ploys are a smoke screen for the fact union leaders are refusing to bring our contracts in line with what is normal for the Bay Area and the transit industry," BART spokeswoman Alica Trost said in a statement.

BART police last week announced a thorough review of police standards, following a widely publicized incident May 10 in which a naked man allegedly assaulted a maintenance worker and two passengers at the 16th Street station. The man, 24-year-old Yeiner Perez Garizabalo, was not arrested until a month later.

A total of 19 on-the-job accidents at BART have been reported to federal labor regulators since 2009, according to records.

Work stoppage looms

If BART workers vote to authorize a strike today and no contract is signed before June 30, a work stoppage is likely.

$1.5 billion: BART total budget

$402 million: BART wages and benefits

September 1997: Last time BART went on strike

6 days: Length of 1997 strike

$133,000: Average BART worker compensation today (including salary, benefits and pension)

400,000: Weekday BART ridership

160,000: Daily BART trips to and from downtown San Francisco

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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