As Cooling-Off Period Ends, BART Contract Negotiations Show A Little Bit Of Progress

With only a week remaining before a 60-day cooling off period expires, negotiators for BART management and its labor unions are making progress on some issues but much work remains to be done on other issues, both sides said today.

Cecille Isidro, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, said the two sides have agreed on a formula in which employees will be compensated for the increased contributions they will have to make for their pensions.

Isidro said SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, have presented several counterproposals to BART this week.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said it’s “good news” that the unions have offered counterproposals because “it shows there’s been movement and good progress” in the talks.

But Trost said many details remain to be worked out.

For example, Trost said BART wants the compensation for increased pension costs to be part of employees’ pay increase for the length of the new contract but the unions want it to be in addition to employees’ pay hike.

Isidro said the unions’ latest proposal asks for employees to get an 11.5 percent increase over three years: 3.75 percent for each of the first two years and 4 percent in the third year.

Trost said BART currently is offering a 10 percent increase over four years.

Trost said BART management is studying the unions’ latest proposal and will offer a counterproposal later today or on Friday.

Contract talks will resume later today, she said.

The 60-day cooling-off period ordered by a judge on Aug. 11 at the request of BART management and Gov. Jerry Brown will expire next Thursday night and if there’s no agreement by then, BART employees could go on strike the next day, Oct. 11.

In a related development today, the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy organization, and a coalition of leading Bay Area business groups said a survey they conducted found that 63 percent of residents in the counties served by BART said workers should accept management’s current contract offer and only 6 percent said management should accept the union’s latest offer.

The business groups said 76 percent of those who participated in the survey oppose a BART strike, an increase from the 70 percent who opposed a strike in a similar survey in August.

The survey also found that even in households that had a union member 54 percent of respondents said BART workers should accept management’s offer.

In addition, 78 percent of poll participants agreed that BART should use any available funding to upgrade, repair and maintain its transit system, which BART officials say operates the nation’s oldest fleet of rail cars and is facing $16.5 billion in upgrades and repairs over the next 30 years.

The survey was conducted by EMC Research in Oakland from Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 and involved 509 people in the four counties serviced by BART: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo. The business groups said the survey has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

Jim Wunderman, the president and chief executive of the Bay Area Council, said in a statement, “The message from the public couldn’t be clearer, more direct and more urgent. BART workers deserve a fair contract and what BART is offering provides that while also ensuring BART can make the critical and necessary investments to maintain and upgrade the system.”

Greg McConnell, the president and chief executive of the Oakland-based Jobs and Housing Coalition, said, “A BART strike will severely affect the economy of the entire Bay Area and bring great harm to working men and women who must rely on BART to commute to and from work.”

McConnell said, “We urge our friends in labor to review the findings in the Bay Area Business Coalition poll and keep BART running. Please do not strike!”

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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