BART rejects unions' offer that would have gotten trains running Friday night

Alex Leber/S.F. Examiner file photoBART Director Joe Keller has proposed a ballot measure to ban BART strikes.

Less than 24 hours into a BART strike, unions and management were still at odds as hundreds of thousands of Bay Area commuters made their way home on clogged roads.

Friday afternoon, unions and management remained divided over what BART is calling “work rules,” even though the two sides were seemingly near an agreement on what had been the main points of contention: wages and benefits.

But Friday the unions wrote BART a letter offering a deal that they said could have trains running again by 10 p.m.

Union leaders said they would submit to all agreements on pay and benefits already reached in negotiations, compromise on language around work practices and submit to binding arbitration on unresolved work rules, all of which BART says was the unions' position before talks broke down.

Negotiations broke down Thursday night, according to the unions, after BART management suddenly put on the table a series of changes to safety rules and guarantees against abuse, among other issues.

BART contends the unions walked out of the talks and knew about the rule changes since April, changes that are necessary to make the system more efficient and flexible so BART can pay for the package it offered workers.

While BART management is willing to talk about putting the whole package before binding arbitration, it is not willing to negotiate on work rule changes alone.

“The work rules have always been a top priority for BART from day one of negotiations, they were part of our package that we submitted to the unions … they were not dumped onto the unions at the last minute. They were part of our April 1st package,” said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost. “Management at this time does not have control over its schedule, overtime, how we divvy up work, what the work hours look like … we want that type of flexibility.”

BART says current contract language makes work rules something they must come to agreement with the unions on, which they say is not the case for many other transit systems and makes it hard to run a rail system efficiently.

But the two striking unions, SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union 1555, say management's work rules changes would strip their members of workplace protections that prevent the abuse of power, unfair treatment and sexual harassment, not arcane work rules.

“Over the last several nights, all of us–workers, elected officials, the federal mediators, the media and, most importantly, our riders–have been played by a management team simply unwilling to settle the contract,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of the SEIU 1021, in a statement Thursday. “At this point, we have come to an overall understanding on economics. However, in the end, BART management is withholding settlement because they want to fundamentally and significantly change the conditions under which we work.”

BART has a $1.6 billion annual budget, about $400 million of which is spent on labor. It's seeking savings from its workers to help pay for system upgrades like new railway cars and a new train control center.

Throughout bargaining, unions had pushed for a three-year contract, while BART proposed four-year contracts like the one signed in 2009.

The unions' last offer, issued to BART on Thursday morning, equated to a 15.88 percent wage increase over four years coupled with increased employee contributions to health care and retirement benefits, according to Trost.

WHAT ARE WORK RULES?

They cover everything from how schedules are made and how grievances are handled to how paychecks are distributed and whether reports are written electronically or in longhand. For workers, stricter rules create stability in their assignments and how they do their jobs. For managers, they limit how flexibly and efficiently they can run the system.

HOW DO THEY FACTOR ON THE BART TALKS?

Some of the biggest work rule changes BART sought relate to work shifts and worker protections. For example, BART wants to be able to change work schedules with greater ease; the unions want to preserve schedules such as a 4-day, 10-hour week, saying this helps workers with child care and other obligations. Other proposed changes would affect the handling of worker claims of discrimination or harassment by managers. The unions say they are willing to submit work rule changes to an arbitrator, but that BART declined.

ARE WORK RULES USUALLY SUCH A BIG DEAL?

They are not typically a deal-breaker for negotiations. Disagreements over wages and benefits such as health care and pensions are usually the kinds of issues that provoke a strike. In some negotiations, unions trade work rules for a better economic package.

–The Associated Press

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