BART unions file complaints to governor, attorney general over negotiations

BART is deliberately “stalling” the negotiations with its unions over a new contract in a way that could “force” a second traffic-paralyzing strike on the Bay Area, labor leaders told Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday.

Workers at the Bay Area's largest transit system are still without a new contract after the old agreement expired June 30. Management and labor have until Oct. 10 to hammer out a deal or a second strike, like the 4½-day stoppage in early July, could occur.

That may be what BART wants, representatives from Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union 1555 told the governor in a letter.

No negotiation sessions have taken place — and the first meeting on wage increases, health care costs and pension contributions is scheduled for Sept. 17, 37 days into the court-ordered cooling-off period — despite union efforts to schedule meetings for late August, according to emails sent to mediators.

That's proof of “BART Management's efforts to force a strike,” according to the letter.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost denied that the agency scotched August meetings and said that the unions have not given a counter-proposal to BART's latest offer, proposed Aug. 10.

“There is plenty of time to get a deal in place as long as there is a will to make it happen,” said Trost, who noted that the unions are still pushing for 20 percent raises over four years.

BART's offer is for 10 percent wage increases, along with increased employee contributions to health care and pensions that union reps say would keep take-home wages flat.

Unions say they've made it clear to management that the Aug. 10 offer — which BART management has described as its “final offer” — is unacceptable.

BART unions have complained to both Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris that management strategy is leading toward a second strike.

BART has a $1.6 billion budget — about $400 million of which is spent on labor — but unlike many other American transit agencies, it turns an annual profit on its operating budget.

BART wants to spend the extra cash on long-term capital needs, including new rail cars. But the unions say the money is proof that the agency can restore some of the $100 million in givebacks sacrificed by labor in 2009 at the height of the fiscal crisis.

BART is funded by a regional sales tax and by passenger fares, which are scheduled to steadily rise over the next decade regardless of what happens in negotiations.

Three members of the state Assembly — Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Rob Bonta, D-Oakland — joined the unions on Labor Day to call for BART to meet with the unions as soon as possible. Quirk also has moved to start an audit of BART's finances and hiring practices. That review will take seven months to complete.

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