BART trains to run Friday, but strike looms for Monday as talks continue

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesOAKLAND

BART trains are running normally Friday, after negotiations ended Thursday night with no new labor contract in place, and no strike — for a few more days, anyway.

That could change Monday morning, as negotiations will continue throughout the weekend, beginning at 10 a.m Friday — but that if there is no deal in place by 12:01 a.m. Monday, workers at BART's largest unions will go on strike.

“We want the public to understand — we want to get this deal done,” said Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents BART station agents and train operators. “It should have been done June 30, July 30, way before now.”

Negotiations over a new labor contract to replace the one that expired June 30 have been going off and on with varying degrees of stalemate since April 1.

As before, both sides pointed to the other as the reason for the impasse.

In extremely brief comments before midnight, BART's lead negotiator Tom Hock said that no new offer was presented because the unions “didn't want” BART to make an offer.

BART had said that it would offer its 3,400 union workers a different deal than the one made last week, but Thursday came and went with no new offer from either side.

“There needs to be a willingness to reach an agreement,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents BART mechanics and custodians. “These are expert negotiators — the issues in front of them are not complicated… but there has to be a will.”

Had the two sides not agreed to continue negotiations Friday, it would have led to the second BART strike in three months.

BART workers elected to strike for four and a half days starting July 1 after their 2009 labor contract expired. Then, they gave the public 72 hours' notice of an impending walk-off.

This time, the unions did not give a strike notice, and negotiations continued under a judge-imposed gag order on both sides, keeping BART's 200,000 daily riders guessing about the status of today's service.

Both sides, including BART general manager Grace Crunican, are scheduled to be back at the table at 10 a.m. this morning.

Meanwhile, BART is paying about $225,000 a day for chartered buses to provide very limited service in event of a strike.

BART is projected to spend about $400 million of its $1.6 billion budget on labor costs, according to the agency's annual budget projections, issued in the spring.

As part of the labor negotiations, the agency pushed for savings in order to pay for billions of dollars in capital improvements, including new railway cars to replace BART's aging stock and expansion of the 40-year-old transit system. The agency will also have to ask voters for a sales tax increase or a bond to pay for the upgrades. That could come as soon as fall 2014.

BART workers — who have had only one pay bump since 2009, a 1 percent cost-of-living increase that went into effect July 1 — pointed to BART's annual operating surplus of more than $100 million as proof that the agency could afford their demands.

The terse negotiations came four years after unions agreed to $100 million of concessions to cover a projected BART deficit, which the unions said never materialized.

Along with pay, the contract talks focused on employee pension contributions, and increased health care costs over a four-year contract.

BART and its largest unions, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1555, traded blame over who was responsible for pushing affairs to the eleventh hour and beyond.

The wars of words in the media accompanied deal-making behind closed doors almost from the beginning. In June, unions also filed a lawsuit against management, alleging bad-faith negotiations; a Tumblr blog called “BART Bratz” — with photos of BART workers buying boats or on vacations, pulled from their Facebook pages — was alleged by union members to be a management ploy.

As the talks went on for months, repeated polls showed the public was displeased with a strike and seemingly on management's side, according to the Bay Area Council, an influential business group of which Crunican is a member.

Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1555BARTBay Area NewsService Employees International Union Local 1021Transittransportation

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