One Week Left in Contract, BART Management and Labor Trade Barbs

With BART contracts expiring next Tuesday night and regional planning organizations urging Bay Area residents to create a contingency plan for getting to work if there is a strike or labor slowdown, BART management and labor representatives are accusing each other of bad-faith negotiations. Though they are bargaining around the clock and both sides insist they don't want to resort to a lock-out or a strike, rhetoric suggests those options are a real possibility.

"The major sticking points are we need to come to agreement on the large economic issues," said BART Spokesperson Linton Johnson, referring to the $100 million management is seeking in concessions from the five BART unions. "None of the major cost-saving issues have been agreed to."

The unions argue that BART district management only gave them specific details for negotiating the various sections of the contract two weeks before the contract deadline, not on April 1st, as had been done with previous bargaining processes.

"I would say the district wasted the first two and a half months with fuzzy wuzzy lack-of-detail," said Jean Hamilton, President of AFSCME Local 3993. "Only in the last week did they present real details."

When asked what the implications were of the 91 percent of AFSCME union members who voted yesterday to authorize a strike, Hamilton stressed that it didn't imply that a strike was imminent, only that the membership supported keeping that option open.

"The strike sanction speaks to the continued support by the members of the board and the work that we're doing on their behalf. It is not an indication that a strike will occur, just a confirmation that the union leadership has that tool in its toolbox. It's all part of our by-laws."

Jesse Hunt, President of ATU Local 1555, which also authorized a strike vote yesterday with near unanimous support from membership, said the vote was merely a formality required by their by-laws. "I don't think a strike is even possible on July 1, unless the district locks us out.  We are going to be at the table at midnight on June 31st, at 10 am on July 1, and 10 am the next day and for as long as it takes. We want to reach an equitable agreement and we're committed to minimizing the disruption to the riding public."

BART's Johnson viewed the matter differently. "For us it's pretty disappointing that the average union worker making $71,663 without overtime thinks that it's ok to go on strike. It basically says that they make enough money to take a few unpaid days off, while our riders can't. 42 percent of riders make less than $50,000 annually in household income."

Though both sides reiterated to Streetsblog that they were meeting around the clock and were committed to working together as long as the other bargained in good faith, there isn't much trust at present. Hamilton said these negotiations were some of the most contentious she's been party to and that the negotiating attorney BART was using was a "carpetbagger" who was trying to vindicate previous bargaining losses.

Said Hamilton, "When the district bellies up to the bar takes a bit of a furlough, or relinquishes some of their benefits, then we'll believe they are sincere in making the contribution they are asking about. We haven't seen any proof of that."

Updated at 1:45 pm