2nd BART strike of year narrowly averted; negotiations to continue Friday

Benny Grush/Staff

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Although BART management and labor unions failed to reach an agreement Thursday night, union leadership agreed to extend talks through the weekend, narrowly averting what would have been this year’s second BART strike.

In early August, San Francisco County Superior Court granted Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a 60-day “cooling-off” period that barred BART employees from striking. This expired at the end of Thursday. If the two sides had failed to reach an agreement by then, BART employees could have gone on strike Friday, disrupting more than 400,000 daily commuters.

Talks between BART and labor unions are set to resume at 10 a.m. Friday. If an agreement is not reached this weekend, the unions could strike as early as Monday.

Negotiations earlier this week were stalled by various stumbling blocks as the parties sought to come to a consensus and avoid a repeat of the summer’s BART strike, which lasted from July 1 to 5.

On Tuesday night, unions and BART management were “very close” to an agreement, according to Des Patten, a spokesperson from Service Employees International Union Local 1021. However, negotiations fell through after BART management said there had been a miscommunication.

“That was an unfortunate situation,” Patten said. “We just told them, ‘You were at this point, and that’s where we expected you to be’ and what we were ready to talk about.”

One of the main points of contention during recent negotiations was an offer from BART to increase pay by 10 percent over four years, which unions said was insufficient.

“There’s no such thing as a 10 percent raise, because you first subtract the amount of money that will be used to pay for the pension, and then you subtract the amount that will be paid for medical,” Patten said. The service employees union also made “significant changes” to its wage offer during negotiations, he added.

On Thursday afternoon, BART spokesperson Jim Allison said BART management planned to present a new offer that was “greater than that 10 percent over four years.”

Previously, the two sides unofficially agreed on a plan to reimburse employees 72 cents for every $1 they contribute toward their pensions. The unions and BART management entered Thursday’s negotiations with this agreement tentatively in place, Allison said.

Another major issue discussed this week was safety measures in the workplace for BART employees, such as insufficient lighting and overgrown brush along tracks.

“Some areas of the tunnels are extremely dark, and you can’t see very well — it’s a danger for employees,” Patten said. “If something goes wrong and (patrons) have to evacuate the train, it’s very dark, and people could stumble and fall.”

Throughout this week, the two sides made progress on smaller, nonmonetary issues, including work regulations, according to Patten.

News editor Megan Messerly contributed to this report.

Contact Jessie Lau at [email protected].