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BART Unions Accuse Management of Contract Delays and Costly Perks

escalator_maintenance.jpgPhoto: jritz

In a teleconference with reporters today, the presidents of three of BART's five unions accused BART management of not showing good faith in efforts to complete negotiations on a new 4-year contract by June 30th, the day the current contract expires. The unions claim that management talks a good game in public, assuring the press that union and non-union workers will share the pain of cutting $100 million in labor costs to drive down an expected $250 million deficit over four years, but that management expects union workers to shoulder more than proportional burden.

"It seems to us the district is spending more time on a public information campaign vilifying employees than good faith bargaining," said Jesse Hunt, President of ATU Local 1555.

Perhaps anticipating the teleconference, BART this morning sent out a press release 15 minutes beforehand claiming that the unions haven't come up with a single cost-saving proposal since they began negotiating.

“We’ve been at this since April 1,” said BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger. “The unions have had plenty of time to decide what makes the best sense for them and their members. The tough choices need to be made now.”

If BART unions decided to strike, the entire region would grind to a halt,
something that hasn't happened since 1997, when there were far
fewer riders. The tete-a-tete continued through press releases, statements, and dueling websites, leaving it uncertain whether or not the two sides would make the June 30th deadline.

The unions said that BART management shouldn't have given themselves bonuses this January, which they claimed was well into the economic downturn and contradicted a commitment to share the pain of cutbacks.

"In January the management all got their yearly increases, and we know how the economy was then," said Jean E. Hamilton, President of AFSCME Local 3993. "We have trouble trusting the district in their numbers and their desire and sincerity in tightening their belt now."

Defending the bonuses, BART spokesperson Linton Johnson said management received merit incentives in January, and union employees in July. "That's very misleading. The management incentive pay that management is entitled to comes by contract. They didn't get anything beyond their scheduled increase; it's a contractual obligation."

The unions were also upset that BART hired outside legal representation for the negotiations, the firm Burke, Williams and Soresonsen, LLP, and called them "carpetbaggers." "She's not going to be here July 2nd if she blows up the district," said Hamilton, who added that she worried about the economic impact of a strike or other labor action.

BART's Johnson bristled at the characterization of the legal team and said they were only hired when management's lead labor negotiator died in January. "We had to hire somebody who had experience with BART over a number of years.  Burke, Williams and Soresonsen, LLP has represented BART a number of times."

Johnson added, "To be fair, there are 44 people amongst the five unions, plus their hired legal teams; they all have their own legal teams at the table."

BART's Board of Directors on June 10th asked for Governor Schwarzenegger to forgo a 60-day "cooling off" period should both sides not meet the deadline in two weeks, a move that has the unions irate.  When asked by the Examiner's Mike Aldax if the unions plan to strike should they not reach an agreement in time, all three presidents said that they hoped to avoid a labor action. 

"I think we've made some good progress on some of the language proposal
that we have seen," said Hunt, though it was clear Dugger and Johnson disagreed. "We're trying to meet [management] on their terms on
the work rules and I think we're doing that. We're committed to getting
an agreement and it's really in [management's] court."

Johnson said that BART management hoped to avoid a strike, but refused to speculate on the odds. "We're not going to play the game of what ifs. Every day of delay [after the deadline] adds about $70k of additional cost."

Isler speculated that BART management was concerned that the 60 day period would run right up to the Labor Day holiday, when Caltrans will close the Bay Bridge to connect the new span to Yerba Buena Island and BART ridership will likely soar. She noted that in previous negotiations they had come to terms well before the end of the cooling off period.

Another issue that bothers the unions, but will not be resolved through contract negotiations is the perception that BART takes operating surpluses to pay for capital projects between contract negotiations

"The capital projects are a black hole," said Hunt. "You have to be able to
maintain the core system first. To continue to spend money on capital
projects and continue to burden the operating budget doesn't make
sense. The most recent is the $522 million on the Oakland Airport Connector when there was a $45 million
and the district did not even look at it."

the definition of insanity to continue with the same practices and
expect different results. They don't change anything," added Isler. "Any money they can
consider excess in operating budget, they throw over the fence into
capital. There's no extra money, no rainy day fund. Until they handle
there finances the way I have to run my own in my daily life, they
will continue to find themselves broke. They need to clean their own house before they railroad us out of ours."

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