Gov. Brown steps in to avert another BART strike

OAKLAND — Commuters can rest easy this morning knowing there will be BART trains to take them to work.

Late Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown finally stepped into the contract negotiations between the transit agency and its two biggest unions to order an investigation of the possible strike. A three-member board now has seven days to review the negotiations.

Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said she’s hopeful the investigation will shed light on what she calls management’s stalling tactics.

“Maybe this will give the governor a chance to wrap his head around what they’re doing,” Sanchez said. “For 22 hours, since last night, we never saw the employer’s negotiator. We never had bargaining. When they came to the negotiations at 8 o’clock, the proposal was even worse than last night’s.”

Management had a different take, expressing to Brown in a letter that it had tried all it could to avert a strike.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on the table and remain committed to an agreement,” said Tom Radulovich, president of the BART board of directors.

The announcement came on the heels of marathon negotiations, as BART management and representatives from SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, both of which represent about 2,400 workers total, met almost daily since the 4½-day strike was suspended July 5, said BART spokesman Rick Rice.

The most contentious issues in negotiations have been over safety, wages, health benefits and pensions. BART has said it has some $6 billion in capital needs over the next decade and cannot achieve the required work without savings in labor costs.

Workers currently pay $92 a month for their health care and do not contribute to their pensions, rates that BART officials have said are unsustainable. Notably, though, BART workers don’t receive Social Security benefits when they retire.

SEIU Local 1021 estimated that under management’s initial proposals on health care and pensions, workers would face anywhere from 17 to 20 percent losses in wages in the next decade, according to the union’s website.

BART workers also asked for safety improvements. Transit mechanic Greg Gray, 42, said he knows firsthand how dangerous the job can be, as he has seen a worker flattened by a truck.

“The unfortunate thing is in maintenance, the bad days could result in losing body parts or death,” Gray said.

BART’s unions issued a 72-hour notice Thursday that employees would walk off the job today if they did not reach an agreement on a new contract by midnight Sunday.

Bay Area officials and agencies had been preparing for how to transport BART riders through another strike, but officials have said there is no way to make up for not having the regional system, which handles about 400,000 trips a day.

“No other transit agency has the ability to absorb BART’s capacity if there’s a disruption,” John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has said.

Gridlock today was expected to be more dramatic than last month, when the strike fell during the Fourth of July holiday week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Governor’s inquiry board

Three individuals have been appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to investigate the contract dispute between BART and two unions:

Jacob Appelsmith, chairman: Since 2011 has been senior advisor to the governor and director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Micki Callahan: Director of human resources in San Francisco as of 2007. Previously held various positions at the State Mediation and Conciliation Service (1996-2005).

Robert L. Balgenorth: Former president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (1993-2012) and current president emeritus of the organization.

New deal may put mechanic in pinch

Greg Gray has been a BART transit mechanic since 2006, a job the 42-year-old said he’s proud of even though it doesn’t allow him to spend much time with his 10-year-old daughter, Kaylen. He sometimes works 30 days in a row, up to 16 hours a day.

“One of the biggest reasons for quitting my second job was her saying, ‘Daddy, I’m not seeing you enough,’” Gray said.

Gray used to repair Boeing 777s for United Airlines. At BART, he repairs 10 trains a week by turning “bolts as big as your head, with a 6 foot long wrench,” he said. Gray also has seen a mechanic electrocuted by grazing the track’s electrified third rail, he said. “We thought he was dead,” Gray said. “I’m by the third rail every day.”

It’s not just himself he worries about, Gray said. He may need to take a second job again, which can make a mechanic fatigued. That makes him worry that there’s a chance of making a repair mistake that could lead to rider casualties.

Gray raises his daughter by himself for half of each week, and he said he wants to buy a house and save for her college tuition. But he said the new contract offers from BART management would put him in even more of a squeeze.

“I feel like I’m running out of time,” Gray said.

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