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Jun
2013
27

BART Strike Looms in San Francisco as Officials Trot Out “Phony” Budget Crisis

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Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers may go on strike as early as Monday citing unchecked safety concerns and a lack of good faith bargaining during recent contract negotiations.  

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers at BART, voted on strike authorization late Tuesday night.  Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 train operators, station agents and foreworkers, took the same action. In all, five union contracts end on June 30th.

It is possible that California Gov. Jerry Brown will call for a 60-day “cooling off period” to halt the strike but representatives of each union have asked him not to intervene. Both sides insist that they wish to avoid a strike and would like to continue bargaining.

On Tuesday, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost waxed optimistic in a San Francisco Chronicle interview:

“We are not ready to talk about strike contingencies,” Trost said. “We think there is a deal to be had.”

Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, agreed:

“What we want is to bargain,” she said. “We’re not interested in talking about a strike.”

Despite this optimism, Bay Area transit officials are urging commuters to map out alternative ways to get to work on Monday.   Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said heads of other transit agencies have met to discuss how they can deal with the overflow of passengers.

“There are seats on buses into the city and lots of empty seats in cars,” Rentschler said, “and we will try to take advantage of those. But there aren’t 400,000 empty seats. BART is a major high-capacity system, and it can’t be replaced. Any BART stoppage is going to put some pain on folks.”

The stalled negotiations are due to more than safety issues.  The union workers want a raise while BART officials want the unions to take major concessions.  

BART is seeking to persuade its employees to start contributing to their pensions and to increase their monthly health insurance payments, which are now a flat $92 regardless of the plan or the number of people covered. It also wants to reduce overtime expenses by changing work rules so that employees who call in sick one day are not paid overtime if they work an extra day. The transit agency said it needs to rein in costs as part of its effort to raise its share of the $15 billion it needs to pay for new rail cars, a modernized train maintenance facility and an improved train control system.

BART has fabricated its budget to obscure the fact it’s generating a $125 million operating surplus, the unions contend. Workers, who went without raises for the past five years, deserve some of that money, the unions say, not only to make up for doing without but to reward them for soaring ridership and reliability rates of about 96 percent.

The unions are seeking five percent annual raises over the next 3 years tied to an annual cost of living adjustment.  BART has offered a one percent raise over the next four years.  The backbone of the union claim of bad bargaining is the suggestion that BART’s budget problem is “phony.”

It’s difficult to negotiate improvements with politicians who won’t even admit the most obvious problems,” Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555, told SF Weekly. “First they tried to create a phony budget crisis to justify increased fares for riders and wage cuts for workers, and now they’re ignoring a mounting wave of violence against workers and riders. All we want is a fair wage and a safe workplace-that’s not too much to ask.”

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