BART unions' safety concerns could push workers to strike

Although BART is back at the negotiating table after a one-day break from talks with one of its biggest unions, the transit agency is bracing itself for a possible work stoppage.

The transit agency is in the midst of contract negotiations with its five unions with a deadline of June 30, when the current contracts expire.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 900 station agents, train operators and other front-line BART employees, stepped away from contract talks Tuesday after expressing frustration at the slow pace of negotiations. The union has asked for increased safety initiatives — such as more protection and staffing opportunities for station agents — as part of the contract talks.

On Monday, union President Antonette Bryant posted a letter to Thomas Hock, an independent consultant hired as the chief negotiator for BART, alerting the agency it would be taking a day off from talks due to lack of progress regarding the safety concerns.

“You declared, on BART's behalf, that 'we're not interested' in bargaining over worker safety issues and that you do not intend to consider the union's proposals,” Bryant wrote in her letter to Hock. “Your conduct as chief negotiator shows that BART's Board of Directors did not hire you to negotiate at all. You were hired to obstruct meaningful bargaining and to pick a fight with BART employees.”

BART has taken on two state mediators to help in its negotiations with its union groups, and the agency highlighted a series of its recent safety initiatives, including pushing for state legislation that allows repeat offenders to be barred from stations.

On Wednesday, ATU returned to contract talks with BART management, but the situation does not appear much improved.

The union has indicated that it will put a strike authorization vote before its members. BART spokesman Alicia Trost said the pending vote “validates the signals we've received to date that they are preparing for a strike.”

BART management is asking the agency to contribute more to their benefits packages, while the union groups are asking for wage increases after four years of salary freezes.

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