Uncertainty over BART strike as deadline looms

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerA broken section of rail that led to major BART delays could be from a batch of bad rail

BART trains could continue rolling Friday morning, even if the deadline for crafting a new labor agreement passes Thursday with no new deal in place.

Or trains could be halted, stations shuttered and Bay Area commuters left pondering other ways to get to work with the transit agency’s second strike of the year.

It all depends on what happens at the negotiating table — where nobody is talking. And it’s basically up to the unions and BART management to figure it out, despite labor leaders calling out the agency’s board of directors for a perceived lack of intervention.

Negotiations between BART management and its labor unions on a new contract to replace the one that expired June 30 continued Tuesday night.

A gag order imposed by a federal mediator means no details on progress are available. That leaves guesswork to determine what will happen when the 60-day cooling-off period — during which strikes and lockouts are forbidden — expires at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

Historically, BART’s unions have given the public 72 hours’ warning of an impending strike. By late Tuesday evening, they had not issued any warning.

As of Friday, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, BART’s two biggest bargaining units, had proposed a three-year contract that was $30 million more than management’s offer, union officials said.

By contrast, management said last week that the two sides are $25 million apart per year on proposals, and BART is offering a four-year deal.

Such fundamental disagreements have led to what observers call the least friendly labor dispute in memory at BART, an organization with a history of labor strife.

BART spends about $400 million a year on labor out of a $1.6 billion budget. BART’s workers have not received a raise since 2009, when labor agreed to give back $100 million in future increases in pay and benefits during the depths of the economic downturn.

If there is a strike, BART has rented up to 150 buses to provide “very limited” service to people — such as service workers or nurses — who absolutely need to get to work and cannot telecommute, according to spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

Up to 200 buses could be available next week if needed, she added.

Riders aren’t the only ones sitting around watching and waiting — BART’s elected board of directors has little to do besides wait as well.

In a statement issued Monday, leaders from ATU and SEIU accused the directors of “holding the Bay Area hostage” and “stall[ing] the process.”

BART board President Tom Radulovich, who represents much of San Francisco but does not participate in negotiations, called the situation “frustrating” while noting that aside from voting to approve a new contract, there is little he and his colleagues can do.

“There’s a lot we don’t control … but we have expert negotiators,” he said. “We’re all hoping this can get done sooner rather than later.”

BART workers began a strike July 1 that lasted 4½ days. Both sides agreed to end the strike and resume negotiations, but could not reach an agreement. In August, Gov. Jerry Brown then requested the 60-day cooling-off period, which a judge granted.

Train or no train?

Time is running out before a 60-day prohibition on a second BART strike expires. More time could be added to the clock — or the clock could be chucked in favor of another work stoppage.

Deal reached:

BART and union leaders come to terms on new contract; contract is later ratified by BART board of directors and union membership, who show up to work as normal Friday

No deal but no strike:

BART and union leaders can’t come to terms, but do agree to keep working under old contract as negotiations continue

No deal and no trains:

As happened in July, negotiations deadlock and workers walk out

No deal, no problem:

BART management tires of negotiations and “imposes” a contract on its workers; move would have to be ratified by board of directors following legal findings; this option is least likely, officials say

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