BART, unions likely to avoid strike as tentative labor agreement is reached

A tentative BART labor agreement may have averted riders’ biggest fear — strikes — but the agency’s unions and members of its board say all sides have a way to go to mend old wounds.

The deal, which extends the current contract another four years with minimal changes for inflation, was announced Monday and awaits ratification by union members and the BART Board of Directors.

Grace Crunican, BART’s general manager, characterized the agreement as a “certainty of labor peace.”

Chris Finn, president of ATU Local 1555, said, “We believe this is a fair deal.”

The BART strike in 2013 — known by many as “BART-pocalypse” — left thousands of riders stranded as employees refused to work.

The strike in 2013 also saw the death of two BART maintenance workers — Christopher Sheppard, 58, and Laurence Daniels, 66 — who were struck and killed by a BART train. Management was allegedly training replacement drivers for the striking workers at the time of the incident on Oct. 9, 2013.

Crunican said BART changed some of its policies following those deaths, including strengthening trackside rules and working with the California Public Utilities Commission.

John Arantes, BART chapter president of SEIU local 1021, told the San Francisco Examiner “unions and management are working to address the safety issues.”

After those negotiations, BART’S Board of Directors, management and union representatives created a committee to restore labor harmony: the Labor Negotiations Review Ad Hoc Committee.

When asked if the committee addressed safety, Finn said, “This is a big step forward, but there’s a lot of work to do.”

A report conducted by an outside agency following the 2013 BART strike found a wide rift of distrust between BART management, the unions and the board.

BART director Rebecca Saltzman, who serves on the labor committee, told the Examiner, “I think the biggest success of the committee has been to get labor leaders and management talking and building trust.”

The committee formed a two-day workshop with 70 people from unions and management that, Saltzman said, focused on data, dispute resolution and public communication.

Under the new tentative agreement, BART workers’ wages will increase about 2.6 percent a year to keep pace with inflation, officials said. The unions — SEIU 1021, AFSCME Local 3993 and ATU Local 1555 — have 30 days to ratify the agreement.

The deal heads off potential strikes in 2017, the deadline for an agreement. Once enacted, the contract will be in place until 2021.

The tentative labor agreement comes as BART’s attention is focused on seeking voter approval for a $3.5 billion bond for capital improvements.

Crunican said as BART’s infrastructure worsens, the system has the highest “system utilization” of any transit agency in the country. That means a greater percentage of BART’s total train fleet are on the tracks, which, Crunican said, is “because of the workers.”

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