BART, labor unions agree to four-year contract

Labor peace will reign at BART, at least for another five years.

That’s the length of the contract between BART and its major unions, which was approved Thursday morning by the BART Board of Directors in a 7-2 vote, with directors Joel Keller and Zakhary Mallett dissenting.

The ratification of the labor agreement will allow BART to focus on its more pressing issues, directors said, like its dwindling capital budget and overstuffed train cars.

The sides reached tentative deals last month, which extends the current contract from 2017 until 2021 with minimal changes for inflation and averted riders’ biggest fear — another strike.

At the meeting, BART General Manager Grace Crunican told the board, “This agreement means we can all do our work over the next five years and focus on the improvements of the system.”

BART Board of Directors Vice President Gail Murray introduced the motion to ratify the contract. She said that despite people’s complaints that “we pay too much,” the amount of money in the contract is less than what California has estimated as a true cost of living increase.

The contract stipulates a 2.5 percent wage increase for BART workers in 2017 and 2018, and a 2.75 percent wage increase in 2019 and 2020. Pension negotiations would be delayed to a later time, due to pending litigation.

Outside the meeting, local SEIU President John Arantes said his members “weighed getting a lower raise with getting this resolved, and improving relationships.”

Murray also said the board would not try to eliminate BART workers’ ability to strike.

“They’re not going to give that up without a long, hard struggle,” she said of potential additional strikes. “We’re giving the legislature five years of labor peace.”

Director Zakhary Mallett said BART was wasting money on employee benefits.

Cleanliness is a major problem in stations, he said, and to address it “you need more workers. If what I have to pay for workers is astronomical (in comparison) to the market, I can’t hire.”

Refuting Mallett, Board of Directors President Tom Radulovich said slashing worker wages and benefits won’t help BART, because operating budgets are separate from capital budgets – and BART’s deficiencies are in capital investment.

Even if BART employees “worked for free,” it wouldn’t help, he said.

Joel Keller, a BART director representing Contra Costa County, said he was “troubled” by the contract, which adds 19 percent to a $400 million deficit at BART, he said. BART staff made a lot of “assumptions” in their budget analysis, he said.

He said, “I fear there are lots of signs” of a bad economy coming in the Bay Area, and reminded directors of the last “dot com bust.”