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High noon nearing on BART labor conflict

By dcuff
Thursday, August 13th, 2009 at 1:23 am in BART, Misc. Transportation, rail.

The risk of a BART strike is on the verge of increasing significantly later today.

The BART board appears poised to impose contract conditions on a union for train operators and station agents later today after the employee group’s leaders late Wednesday night rejected what BART management called its last and final offer. Leaders of the union have threatened to strike if their pay and work rules were imposed on them, and two other BART unions have said they would respect the picket lines even though they have ratified BART’s contract offer.

The BART board will take up the contract issue in a special meeting 11 a.m. today on the third floor of the Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall, 344 20th St., Oakland.

The negotiations between BART and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 broke off shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday after the union rejected management’s offer to let ATU members keep six floating holidays they would lose under a tenative agreement reached July 31,  BART spokesman Linton Johnson said in a written release. In exchange, BART had wanted the union to agree to change inefficient work rules that would result in the phasing out of five station agent jobs through attrition, he said.

“ATU rejected the idea,” Johnson said.

Transit board members are upset that the Amalgamated Transit Union voted by a nearly 2 to 1 margin Monday to reject a cost-cutting contract settlement overwhelmingly accepted by two other BART unions. In response to the ATU vote, several BART board members said this week they are prepared to impose contract terms on the union because the transit system desperately needs to reduce costs in the recession to avoid pressure to raise fares, cut service, or lay off workers. “Sometimes you have to go through short-term pain to make a long-term gain,” Johnson said Wednesday afternoon about the risk that imposing a contract would lead to a strike.

On Monday and Tuesday, ATU Local 1555 President Jesse Hunt said many of his members want a two-year contract rather than BART’s offer of a four-year wage with modest bonuses in the last three years of the accord. A two-year deal would give workers an opportunity to seek a boost in base pay if the economy turned around in two years, Hunt said.

Johnson said Wednesday that ATU negotiators have flipflopped on the contract length by asking for a two-year deal and then seeking a four-year deal. ATU’s board had recommended ratification of a four-year contract settlement, but the rank and file voted it down Monday. 

One Antioch man who lost his job in the recession said he feels little sympathy for workers who threaten to strike over a contract that has no pay cuts or layoffs over four years, and funds a generous state pension.

“Let them strike,” Paul Banducci of Antioch wrote in an email. “How dare they in this economy with so many people making sacrifices complain that cutting out a raise for a small amount of time is too much to bear?”

ATU officials have said they would give “reasonable” advance notice to the public before striking. ATU officials also have suggested they might go to court to challenge any BART plan to impose contract conditions.


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