BART official 'confident' deal can be reached in labor dispute

Gov. Jerry Brown may have single-handedly spared the Bay Area from another debilitating BART strike, but commuters aren't out of the woods yet.

Despite the governor personally wading into the spate, both sides of the negotiating table remain deeply entrenched.

After making a series of concessions in recent years, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 have pressed for raises that exceed 20% over three years.

BART has countered with a proposed 8% raise over four years and has asked workers, who earn a median salary of about $80,000, to contribute to their pensions.

BART officials on Sunday night asked Brown to step in when it became clear no agreement would be reached by the midnight deadline for triggering a strike.

But speaking to reporters after Brown’s announcement, SEIU Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez said the fact-finding report would only impede negotiations.

“Unfortunately, it takes our attention away from the bargaining table because now we have to put together a case to present before the board of inquiry,” she said.

A statement released by the union was more terse.

“Our hope is that the governor’s Board of Investigation will reveal how little time BART management has spent at the bargaining table in the past 30 days, compared with how much time they’ve spent posturing to the media,” the SEIU said.

The governor has since appointed a three-member board to investigate the disagreement between labor leaders and Bay Area Rapid Transit, and to report back in seven days.

Once Brown has the board’s report, state law allows him to ask a judge to order a 60-day cooling-off period.

The outcome of the negotiations have thousands of commuters on edge.

BART trains carry an estimated 400,000 passengers each day, so any interruption in service has a huge impact. Emergency measures, such as additional bus and ferry service and increased reliance on casual carpooling, did little to cut the sting of a 4½-day strike that severely hampered the region in early July.

“I’m confident we can get to a deal if all the parties are willing to sit down and bargain in good faith,” Tom Radulovich, a BART board member, told television news reporters.

Until then, Brown’s action prohibits a walkout or lockout while the board prepares its report. The 11th-hour move elicited a huge sigh of relief from commuters, who had to stay up late to find out if they needed to build hours more into their Monday travel times.

Erick Villegas, 21, told the San Jose Mercury News he was “pretty relieved” about the last-minute move to avert a strike.

"I just got in from San Diego, so if BART wasn't running right now, I'd be in a lot trouble,” he said. “I hope they get it settled, get something long-term worked out. I hate to be not knowing."


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Twitter: @jasonbretwells

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