Negotiators from BART are back at the bargaining table today in Oakland to try to hash out a last-minute deal with the only one of its unions to reject a proposed contract and avoid a possible strike that could be just days away, a BART spokesman said.
Negotiations began this afternoon between the transit agency and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers, BART chief spokesman Linton Johnson said.
If a deal is not reached, BART’s board of directors has scheduled a special meeting for 11 a.m. Thursday to consider implementing terms and conditions on the union, a move that ATU chapter president Jesse Hunt said would lead to a strike.
ATU was the only union that did not approve the contract, which was tentatively agreed upon between BART and three unions on July 31 after a lengthy bargaining process that began on April 1.
Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents about 1,500 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors, clerical employees and track workers, voted Monday to approve the contract.
American Federation of Local, State and Municipal Employees Union Local 3993, which represents more than 200 middle managers, voted Tuesday in favor of the agreement.
Although SEIU members voted nearly three-to-one in favor of the deal, and about 86 percent of ASCME votes approved it, ATU strongly rejected the contract with 406 members voting against it compared to 224 votes in favor of it.
Johnson said that “SEIU and AFSCME participated in this process, and understood what this agency was facing. They did their part to help the taxpayers out, and ATU did not.”
Hunt said Tuesday that the main concern for his union’s members is the length of the contract, which would last four years and includes wage freezes.
“We understand the tough economic situation we all face and that other jurisdictions and businesses around the state have negotiated contracts with wage freezes,” Hunt said.
“But they’ve been for shorter periods of time and that’s what our members are looking for too.”
But Johnson said today that those sentiments seem a little disingenuous, because he says BART had initially agreed on a two-year contract with ATU, but it was union negotiators who had asked to make it a four-year deal, and are now calling on a shorter contract again.
“A lot of board members that I’ve heard from don’t think that’s fair,” Johnson said. “SEIU and AFSCME … they overwhelmingly said they wanted this four year deal, so to suddenly do this two-year deal (with ATU) is not fair.”
Johnson said he’s “praying for a miracle” with the negotiations, which will “go on as long as it’s productive.”
If no deal is reached by Thursday, a special meeting of BART’s board of directors at 11 a.m. could lead to a strike.
Johnson said the board will consider a variety of options, but will look “primarily at imposing terms and conditions” on ATU, and that those terms would not necessarily be limited to what was in the tentative agreement.
Hunt said Tuesday that if the board adopts terms and conditions, “that would certainly precipitate a work action, but we’re doing everything we can to avoid that.”
If the board comes to that decision, when the strike would start “depends on the circumstances and what exactly it is they impose, and the length of time they give notice before the imposition takes effect,” Hunt said.
Johnson said that BART’s decision on when to implement the terms and conditions is one of the things the board would consider if a deal is not reached tonight.
A strike would shut down the entire BART system, since the other unions have said they will not cross ATU’s picket lines.
BART has already seen about an 11 percent decline in ridership from July 2008 to July 2009, and Johnson said the agency is hoping to avoid a systemwide shutdown, which would cause more riders to find another mode of transportation once the trains went back in service.
“Clearly if there’s a strike, there’ll be an effect on ridership after we restore service, and it’s going to take a lot to build our ridership back. But that said, sometimes you have to take some short-term pain for some long-term gain,” Johnson said.
“If that’s what it takes,” he said before pausing. “Hopefully that’s not what it takes.”