BART, AC Transit unions authorize strikes

Workers from two of the Bay Area's largest transit systems authorized strikes Tuesday in the event their respective contract disputes are not resolved by Sunday.

BART's two biggest labor unions announced Wednesday that their members had voted to authorize a strike Tuesday. On Tuesday, workers from AC Transit in Alameda County did the same.

Union contracts for both agencies expire Sunday.

Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1221 — which represents 1,430 BART mechanics, custodians and clerical workers — and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — which represents 945 BART station agents, train operators and foreworkers — could potentially begin striking as soon as Monday morning.

Key issues in the BART talks, which began April 1, are wages, health care costs, pension contribution costs, work rules and safety.

President Yvonne Williams of ATU Local 192, which represents AC Transit workers, told KPIX (Ch. 5) that union members' top concerns are unfair labor practices and safety.

BART management spokesman Rick Rice called the strike authorization votes “a procedural move” by the unions, but he said the two sides are “continuing to negotiate to try to get a deal.” Rice said contract talks resumed Wednesday. He said negotiations were suspended Tuesday merely so union members could vote.

John Arantes, the president of the BART chapter of SEIU Local 1021, said in a statement, “We have tried in vain to get BART to have serious conversations about the issues facing workers every day — there are fewer workers, working for less money, in more dangerous conditions.”

Added Arantes: “This is an unsafe, unfair situation that can't be allowed to continue. We don't want to strike, but BART management seems determined to cause one.”

“Our members are under attack and the district refuses to act,” said Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555. “All we want is fair compensation and a safe workplace.”

Rice said BART has asked Gov. Jerry Brown not to order a 60-day cooling-off period that would delay a strike if an agreement isn't reached by Sunday.

He said that if a strike is to occur, the transit agency would rather face one now, when ridership is down due to summer vacations, rather than in September, when ridership returns to peak levels.

The last time BART employees staged a strike was in September 1997. The walkout lasted six days before a settlement was finally reached.

— Staff, wire report

Make alternative commute plans

Regional transit officials are warning commuters that there will be gridlock on Bay Area streets if BART workers go on strike next week.

A potential strike could begin as early as Monday morning, as the unions' contracts with BART expire Sunday.

At its meeting in Oakland on Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission discussed the effects a BART work stoppage would have on Bay Area transit.

The commission will be sending letters to employers in the region encouraging them to work with employees to find alternatives to driving during peak morning and evening commute hours, MTC officials said.

Telecommuting will be encouraged, as well as carpooling or using alternative transit services.

BART provides about 400,000 rides daily, including 96,000 across San Francisco Bay in the Transbay Tube during peak commute hours, which is 50 percent more than when BART workers last held a strike in 1997, MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said.

Because of that, “The impact is likely to be even more substantial,” Heminger said.

The commission approved Heminger's request to reimburse other regional transit agencies if they have to provide additional service because of a strike.

Commuters are encouraged to call 511 or visit to review all travel alternatives.

— Bay City News

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