Second BART strike may be imminent should negotiations fail

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In one week, thousands of BART employees could go on strike for the second time this year.

The 60-day “cooling-off” period requested by Gov. Jerry Brown in early August, which prohibited BART labor unions from going on strike, will come to a close before midnight on Oct. 10. If no agreement is reached between BART management and the labor unions by then, the unions have the option of going on strike Oct. 11.

A strike may leave approximately 400,000 Bay Area commuters without transportation for an undetermined amount of time.

Although the cooling-off period was meant to allow more time for negotiations between BART management and labor unions, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 negotiator Leah Berlanga said little progress has been made.

According to Berlanga, BART management has not made any further proposals since the cooling-off period started. BART management’s current proposal suggests a 10 percent wage increase over four years.

SEIU Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union released their newest proposal on Wednesday. The proposal reflects a drop in the workers’ original wage requests, and they are now asking for a 3.75 percent increase in wages each year for the first two years and a 4 percent raise in the third year, 2016.

“We’re hoping that by taking the higher road here and taking the initiative to move things forward, management will take our lead,” Berlanga said. “The unions certainly want to reach an agreement. We’re trying to think of any which way to move this process along, but it’s been very, very difficult.”

SEIU Local 1021 met with BART management representatives Thursday afternoon to discuss the new proposal. BART spokesperson Jim Allison said that BART’s financial team spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning going over the new proposal and that they appreciated the labor unions’ offer because “it does indicate some movement on their part.”

The only agreement the two parties have come to so far is a pension swap. For every $1 that employees contribute to pensions, they will be reimbursed 72 cents. Employees currently do not contribute to pensions. Allison, however, said that because there is no contract yet, the agreement is not official — they’ve only agreed on the concept.

In the case that the strike does occur, BART has a contingency plan prepared. BART administration hopes to provide charter buses and to open its lots for free parking. AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson said the AC Transit system will also try to help by increasing its transbay service as much as possible.

Allison understands the BART system cannot rely on the contingency plan, however.

“That plan is not going to make a huge dent in the traffic nightmare,” he said.

While he believes there is enough time to find a “middle ground” and reach an agreement before the injunction ends, there is one more possibility that may help prevent a strike.

SB 423, if passed in the California Legislature and signed by Brown, will force BART employees to abide by a no-strike clause in their expired contracts. Under state law, labor unions must honor expired contracts with the state government until a new contract is established. Because BART is a local agency, however, BART unions are not required to follow expired contracts.

Under SB 423, this loophole would close, and the BART unions would be required to follow the same rules as unions working with state agencies. In that case, the employees would not be able to strike.

“The only thing that bill would do would be tie our hands,” Berlanga said. “It doesn’t do anything to make things move more quickly or get things resolved at the table.”

Although Allison said the BART administration is not involved in lawmakers’ decisions, he acknowledged the right to strike is a part of the collective bargaining process.

“Our unions are a large part of what makes BART strong,” he said.

Contact Tahmina Achekzai at [email protected].