BART, unions continue negotiations; strike temporarily averted

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Unions representing BART employees continued to negotiate with BART management late into Wednesday night, failing to come to an agreement as of press time but temporarily averting a transportation logjam that would have forced about 400,000 Bay Area commuters to find alternative transportation Thursday.

Federal mediator George Cohen announced at a press conference Wednesday night that trains will continue to run Thursday. The late-night announcement came during the fifth meeting in the past week at which the threat of a strike loomed into the late evening hours.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said that she could not release details from Wednesday’s negotiations because of a gag order intended to subdue public pressure on the parties.

BART workers went on strike for four days in July, with negotiations resulting in a temporary agreement. That agreement was extended for two months on Aug. 11 due to a court-ordered cooling-off period requested by Gov. Jerry Brown. The cooling off period ended Oct. 10, setting off a series of late-night meetings between BART management and union negotiators in the past week.

In the past, contention between BART management and unions has focused on pay increases. On Sunday, BART General Manager Grace Crunican announced BART management’s “last, best and final offer” — a 12 percent raise over four years. Nonmanagement BART employees earned an average of $76,500 in gross pay last year.

Unions said a previous offer from BART to increase pay by 10 percent over four years had been insufficient. Before Oct. 10, the two sides had come to a tentative agreement for employees to be reimbursed 72 cents for every $1 they contribute toward their pensions.

“Like I say every morning, I feel good,” Antonette Bryant, president of ATU 1555, one of the unions representing BART employees, told the San Jose Mercury News. “The unions are trying to get a deal done. We’re not trying to disrupt service.”

Another public transportation crisis was temporarily averted Wednesday evening, as Brown appointed a board to investigate a contract dispute between AC Transit and one of its unions, prohibiting a strike or lockout for up to seven days.

If no agreement is reached in the next week, Brown could ask a judge to ban a strike or a lockdown for two months. AC Transit union workers had posted a 72-hour notice to strike starting Thursday.

Polls show most Bay Area residents support BART management. According to an Oct. 10 KPIX 5/SurveyUSA poll of Bay Area adults, 76 percent said they opposed BART workers going on strike.

Juan Fermin, a student at Berkeley City College, said that in the event of a strike, he would rely on AC Transit for his commute from Richmond.

“I practically have to ride BART every day,” Fermin said. “It’s my way to get back home as well.”

Other BART riders expressed concern that another BART strike would increase traffic and strain other forms of public transit throughout the Bay Area.

“It would be a really big inconvenience,” said Elizabeth Allum, who came from Ohio and used BART to visit her sister in Berkeley. “I think traffic would go up, I bet accidents would go up — just kind of chaos.”

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @christiancyoder.