BART workers strike over proposed changes to work regulations

Strike leaves many Bay Area commuters stranded

Andrew Peng/Staff

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UPDATE: BART officials and union representatives are reportedly working with a federal mediator toward a settlement in an effort to end the strike. Check out our news blog for more.

The systemwide BART strike that began Friday at midnight and persisted throughout the weekend left a daily weekday average of 400,000 commuters dependent on limited transportation routes, increasing congestion across the Bay Area.

Despite reaching an agreement on typical sticking points such as wages, medical coverage and pensions, negotiations broke down over changes to work regulations BART management sought to implement, according to both union members and management representatives.

Alicia Trost, a BART spokesperson, said in a statement that the BART Board of Directors will hold a closed meeting Monday at 3 p.m. to discuss labor negotiations. As of Sunday afternoon, there were no scheduled talks with unions, Trost added.

On Friday, union workers held rallies in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. At the Lake Merritt BART station, picketers’ signs described the walkout as a strike against unfair labor practices. BART General Manager Grace Crunican, however, argued in an open letter to the public on the BART website that changing work rules is “essential.”

One day into the strike, on Saturday about 1:53 p.m., a train out for maintenance duties struck and killed two employees. The workers, an outside contractor and a unionized BART employee, had been inspecting what an earlier train worker reported as a dip in the tracks.

The fatal accident occurred after the train transported graffitied cars from Concord to Richmond for cleaning. The northbound train was returning from the transport when it hit the workers, according to Jim Southworth, investigator in charge for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident.

Although the unions halted picketing Sunday out of respect for the deceased, labor debates continue. One point of contention is whether the transit system should have the authority to reassign employees to new locations and train lines, according to Sharina Pearson, a system service worker and a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, one of the three unions representing workers on strike.

Chris Finn, a train operator for 17 years and a negotiator for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said he believed BART’s negotiators intended to cause the strike.

“(BART) would rather have a strike than have a neutral third party come up with a fair solution,” he said, accusing BART officials of trying to “smash the unions” in their most recent proposal.

Crunican defended the transit system’s position in negotiations and praised its officials for “defining the investments necessary for an aging system.”

“This union contract is about the future,” she said. “The public needs the trains to run. We need a spirit of compromise from our unions.”

This is the second BART strike this year. In July, BART employees went on strike for four and a half days, which ended when union members and BART representatives reached a temporary 30-day agreement. After the end of the agreement, another BART strike was narrowly averted when Gov. Jerry Brown requested a 60-day cooling-off period.

California law, however, allows the governor to call for only one cooling-off period.

Steve Glazer, an Orinda City Council member and an adviser to Brown, submitted an online petition Sept. 24 that would prohibit public transportation workers from striking. So far, more than 5,000 have recommended the petition through Facebook.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle poll of Democratic lawmakers whose districts were impacted by the BART strike, five said they were opposed to a strike ban, four were undecided and 12 did not respond.

Because of the BART closures, commuters flooded Bay Area bus systems. To adjust to the increased demand for bus service, AC Transit provided F and NL line buses twice as frequently Saturday and Sunday. AC Transit also moved all bus stops located in BART stations to locations outside of BART property.

Sophomore Ailen Vega usually relies on BART to get to her internship in San Francisco. On Friday, Vega waited at the bus stop at Shattuck and Durant avenues, attempting to board the F line into the city. But the bus never stopped — it was already filled with passengers.

Berkeley commuter and painter Daniel Gutierrez said he intended to travel to Los Angeles on Friday to work on a mural, but the strike complicated his plans.

“I take public transportation — I live in the city because of it. I rely on it a lot,” he said. But he was sympathetic to the unions’ cause. “I’m pro-union. I support the workers. I think they should get their due.”

According to UC Berkeley Registrar Walter Wong, there is no indication that classes will be compromised or canceled due to the strike.

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