BART employees might vote next week to strike

BART union workers distributed leaflets to patrons Thursday that highlight safety issues that they say aren't being addressed by management at the bargaining table, and employees are considering the possibility of a strike.

Leah Berlanga, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021 — which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers at BART — said the safety of the transit agency's employees and customers is being compromised by inadequate lighting in tunnels, a substandard electrical system and other problems.

Berlanga said the lighting in some tunnels is so bad that train operators can't see fellow employees who are doing repair work.

She said workers also are concerned that if trains have to be evacuated during an emergency, the lighting is so bad that it will be difficult to move passengers safely.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said lighting and other safety concerns are being addressed by management and that those issues “don't belong at the bargaining table.”

Trost said such concerns aren't even being mentioned in the unions' own internal communications about the labor talks, which she said instead emphasize salaries, work rules and benefits.

Management and union negotiators have been meeting since April 1, but progress has been slow and a mediator was brought in this week to try to speed up the talks, as the current contracts for union employees expire June 30.

Berlanga said SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — which represents 945 train operators, station agents and foreworkers — will hold strike authorization votes Tuesday.

She said the unions have to give management 72 hours of notice before going on strike, and that workers still hope a strike can be averted.

Trost said she believes the fact that the unions are holding strike authorization votes “validates the signal they've been sending that they are prepared to strike so they don't have to pay more for health care and pension costs.”

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