BART’s two largest unions voted Friday to approve a contract agreement that would both increase workers’ wages and make changes ensuring the transit system’s financial sustainability.
After six months of acrimonious labor negotiations, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 ratified the contract agreements with an overwhelming majority of votes — 88 and 85 percent, respectively. Together, the unions represent nearly 2,400 BART workers, including station agents, train operators and custodians.
The comprehensive package includes a wage increase of 15.38 percent over the four-year term of the contracts, although workers will pay more in medical and pension contributions. The agreement also changes the number of years employees must work to receive retiree medical benefits from five to 15 — a plan designed to save BART millions of dollars.
“While employees gained a reasonable wage increase in the labor agreements, BART gained priceless changes to outdated work rules which will help pay for the wage increases while allowing BART to modernize and operate more efficiently,” said Tom Radulovich, president of the BART Board of Directors, in a press release.
Saul Almanza, SEIU 1021 BART Professional Chapter vice president, hopes savings provided by the new labor agreement will be passed on in the future to the employees who “keep BART running.”
“It’s too early to say, but I feel this is workable for members and families,” Almanza said. “With 88 percent ratifying (the agreement), it seemed members felt same.”
In early summer, stalled labor negotiations drove BART’s network of trains to a halt for four and a half days around the July 4 weekend. Although BART management and unions reached tentative agreements over wages, medical coverage and pensions in early fall, negotiations broke down again over changes to work regulations BART management sought to implement, and the unions went on strike for an additional four days beginning Oct. 18.
In the labor agreement’s final iteration, tentatively reached Oct. 21, management and unions were able to agree on a strategy for promoting awareness of safety hazards through the establishment of an electronic tracking system of safety notices, according to SEIU 1021 spokesperson Cecille Isidro. Currently, there is no established procedure to track such notices districtwide, according to a statement by SEIU 1021.
ATU 1555 Recording Secretary Chris Finn said that throughout the negotiation process, BART management tried to paint the dispute as an economic issue instead of one of safety.
As part of the agreement, BART agreed to add Dutch doors, height markers and shatterproof protective film in station agent booths systemwide, and BART managers will meet with workers to address other safety concerns.
“BART will be able to move forward with the replacement of our aging fleet of train cars and the needed upgrades to meet demand,” said BART General Manager Grace Crunican in a press release. “BART was able to gain reforms it has sought for years which will have a positive impact on our ability to manage the system and will improve service for our customers.”
The BART Board of Directors is expected to vote on the contracts soon at a meeting.
A third BART union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993, has not yet voted to approve its tentative contract proposal, which was reached separately from the other two unions’ agreement Oct. 23.