At last, progress in BART talks

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerA broken section of rail that led to major BART delays could be from a batch of bad rail

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerA broken section of rail that led to major BART delays could be from a batch of bad rail

More progress in the long and arduous BART labor struggle was made in a single day Thursday than in the preceding two months, as both sides traded new contract proposals.

That’s not saying much — except perhaps “it’s about time.”

Less than a week remains in the 60-day cooling-off period imposed by a judge in August at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown. That means the Bay Area could be subjected to the second BART strike of the year if no deal is reached before midnight Oct. 10. A previous 4½-day strike ended July 5.

Under that deadline pressure, the transit agency and its union workers have come to terms on a formula for pension contributions, according to both labor and management officials.

That still leaves differences over raises and health care payments — not to mention a fundamental disagreement over the length of the deal — so there’s still a lot of work to do before BART’s 3,400 union workers sign a new labor contract to replace the one that expired June 30.

Before Thursday, the two sides had been in a stalemate since August, when BART management offered its four unions raises totaling 10 percent over four years, coupled with bigger pension and health care contributions — which union officials said would essentially keep take-home earnings flat.

On Wednesday, leaders with the agency’s biggest unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — offered a three-year deal that asked for an 11.5 percent total raise. It also included a “pension swap” that would pay 72 cents in wages for every $1 in new retirement fund contributions by workers, who do not currently pay into their pensions.

The unions’ new offer would link pay raises to increases in BART ridership. The agency handles about 400,000 daily weekday boardings and anticipates the number increasing to 560,000 by 2025.

That new offer still leaves the two sides apart by about $25 million a year, said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

BART made a counteroffer Thursday, but the details were not made public. Bargaining continued past press time Thursday.

The transit agency is projected to spend about $400 million on labor costs out of a total $1.6 billion budget in the current fiscal year.

BART is seeking concessions from its labor unions to help pay for $6 billion in major system upgrades, for which BART also has said it will seek higher taxes or a bond measure.

The unions — which say their wages have been flat since 2009 when they gave back $100 million in scheduled pay increases during the height of the financial crisis — point to BART’s $156.8 million operating surplus and a resurging economy as proof the agency can afford the requested contract.

Passenger fares, BART’s biggest source of revenue, are scheduled to increase Jan. 1 and every other year thereafter until 2020 regardless of what happens at the negotiating table.

BART releases new poll

The idea of another BART strike is unpopular among the public, even if some respondents said it won’t affect them much.

24% Strongly or somewhat support a strike

77% Strongly or somewhat oppose a strike

51% Would not be significantly impacted by second strike

57% Would not change commuting habits in event of a strike

19% Ride BART at least twice a week

63% Said BART workers should accept management’s offer

*Note: Poll numbers were rounded up.

Source: Bay Area Council BARTBART strikeBay Area NewsSEIU Local 1021Transittransportation

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