Negotiators who represent more than 2,800 BART union workers said today that all options, including a possible strike, are on the table with only a few hours left before the current contract expires at midnight today.
Larry Gerber, the chief negotiator for the BART chapter of Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1,400 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, said, “We’re not ruling out anything.”
Gerber said that includes extending the contract, asking for a 60-day cooling off period and going on strike.
Speaking at a news conference outside the downtown Oakland location where negotiations are being held, Gerber said BART’s labor unions would give “reasonable notice” before going on strike but declined to define what he means about a “reasonable” amount of time.
SEIU Local 2021 President Lisa Isler indicated the unions don’t contemplate going on strike immediately, saying, “I don’t want to put the community in that position in the next two days.”
BART’s unions currently are obligated to give at least 72 hours notice before going on strike but that requirement won’t be in effect if the contract expires and the unions theoretically could go on strike after midnight tonight.
Isler was joined at the news conference by Jesse Hunt, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers, and representatives from Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 200 middle managers.
Isler said, “We are cautiously optimistic at the bargaining table” but added that 1,500 union people “are ready to mobilize” in case a strike is called.
Linton Johnson, the chief spokesman for BART’s management, said earlier today that he thinks the most likely scenario tonight is that negotiations will continue after the contract expires.
Johnson said management’s priority remains trying to achieve $100 million in labor cost savings by having employees contribute more of the cost of their benefits, such as health care and retirement, and eliminating wasteful work rules.
He said BART wants to reduce its labor costs because it faces a projected $250 million budget deficit over the next four years.
BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger told board members at their meeting today that new estimates, based on declining ridership and sales tax revenues, indicate that the four-year deficit could even be $60 million worse, for a total shortfall of $310 million over that period.
Johnson said he’s not sure how the worsened outlook will affect contract talks and whether it means that management will ask for even more concessions from union workers.
Isler said the new budget estimate “was a big surprise to us today” and indicates that management “miscalculated by $60 million” when contract talks began on April 1.
However, she said management hasn’t asked for any more concessions so far.
Gerber, who’s been through negotiations with BART management many times, said this year’s sessions “are the hardest talks I’ve been involved in.”
Gerber said, “When there’s a target of saving $100 million, it’s all pretty negative.”
SEIU Local 1021, ATU Local 1555 and AFSCME Local 3993 are the three largest of BART’s five labor unions and all voted by overwhelming margins last month to authorize a strike.
The two smallest unions represent BART police officers and managers.
The BART Police Managers Association represents sergeants, lieutenants and commanders and the BART Police Officers Association represents rank-and-file officers.
However, members of the police unions are barred from going on strike.