OAKLAND -- A Bay Area regional transit strike seemed likely late Monday as the clock ticked toward a midnight cutoff of negotiations, with one union leader saying it would take a “Hail Mary” to avert a BART work stoppage.
Complicating matters, the union representing workers for the Alameda–Contra Costa Transit District, or AC Transit -- which runs East Bay buses -- issued its own 72-hour strike notice Monday.
While options remain to avert or delay the bus strike, if those fail and Bay Area Rapid Transit workers do not accept a deal, the region could face an unprecedented double whammy.
About 200,000 round-trip commuters rely on the 104-mile BART system each weekday.
Nearly 3,000 BART mechanics, custodians, station agents, clerical workers and train operators are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which have been involved in stalled negotiations with the district since April.
A Tuesday strike would be the second since a 4 1/2-day shutdown brought BART to a halt in July. Numerous strike deadlines have since passed, with Gov. Jerry Brown intervening in August to impose a 60-day cooling-off period.
Negotiations heated up again last week, with what many elected leaders and labor observers took to be promising progress over the weekend. Yet matters soured Sunday after BART management presented a “last best and final” offer at 4 p.m.
The unions had been set to strike Monday but agreed to one more day of negotiations and called on management to rescind the offer. Management declined.
In a Monday evening news conference, BART Board of Directors President Tom Radulovich said the transit district believes it has “reached the outer limit financially of what we’re prepared to offer to settle this.... We think it’s time for the union leadership to let us know, to let the Bay Area people know, whether they will take an offer to their membership” for a vote.
A gag order had previously kept public details of negotiations to a minimum but that changed as the latest deadline neared.
Unions had initially sought raises of more than 20% over three years, with BART management offering 8% over four years. Management also sought pension contributions from employees, who currently make none, and an increase in healthcare contributions. BART employees now pay a flat rate of $92 per month.
Sunday’s “last best and final offer” includes a 12% raise over four years. A chart released by management also showed that workers would pay 1% toward pensions the first year, then an additional percentage point each year, resulting in a 4% contribution the fourth year of the contract.
Health benefit contributions would scale up from a $132 flat rate the first year to $144 in the fourth year of the contribution. If ridership increases beyond forecast levels, each employee could receive up to a $1,000 bonus each year, the chart shows.
Radulovich said the offer also included changes to “work rules.” For example, workers who call in sick and do not work a 40-hour week would no longer be able to come in on their day off and earn overtime.
Pete Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, blasted the BART board on Monday evening for approving the “last best and final” offer -- which could give management the ability to declare an impasse and impose a contract.
“Even though we've been talking, we feel they have no intention of making an agreement,” he said. “This is what’s called 'jamming' the other side.... We apologize to the riders but we put it squarely at the BART district’s feet. Unless there’s a Hail Mary, there will be a strike.”
Castelli said “a pittance” separated the two sides. Radulovich, meanwhile, said management was not willing to change the dollar amounts of the offer but was open to arriving at them by different means.