Striking BART union members picket on safety issues

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 picket at San Francisco's Embarcadero station on Monday. They are emphasizing safety in the wake of two worker deaths. (Lee Romney/Los Angeles Times / October 21, 2013)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bay Area Rapid Transit officials and a union spokeswoman confirmed Monday afternoon that talks were resuming through a federal mediator, and if resolution can be achieved by 6 p.m. regional commuter trains could be up and running for Tuesday morning’s commute.

A special meeting of BART’s board of directors scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday was canceled because management determined it was not necessary at this point to “provide an update,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. A regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

However, Trost at about 2:30 p.m., confirmed that conversations with federal mediator Greg Lim -- who remained in the Bay Area after his colleagues returned to Washington, D.C., last week -- were held late into Sunday evening on a union proposal that could propel talks forward.

Due to necessary inspections and system checks, talks would need to resolve by 6 p.m. in order for the 400,000 weekday ridership to feel relief come Tuesday morning, she added. “We are hopeful,” said Trost, who declined to describe the remaining issues out of deference to the process.

Service Employees International Union Local 1021 spokesman Des Patton said he was “hopeful” too.

“At least we're talking and coming up with ideas and exchanging ideas,” he said. “I’m hopeful it will lead to a resolution.”

Cecille Isidro, a spokeswoman for Local 1021, was less positive in her analysis. But she, too, confirmed that Lim recently informed union bargaining teams that BART management “had gotten to their offices” and would be reaching out through him.

“We’ve been making that move to try to reach resolution since the first day of the strike,” Isidro said. “We’ve been trying to engage with them every day. Our team has been waiting for hours.”

Talks between BART management and its two largest unions --  SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 -- had yielded progress last week. The unions had agreed to health benefit and pension contributions as well as the “financial framework” of pay raises.

However, management insistence on greater control over changes in workplace procedures – known as “work rules” -- was met by union resistance. Safety issues were also yet to be resolved, they said. 

On Sunday night, the unions agreed to allow management to exercise control over implementation of new technology. It remained unclear Monday how that offer was being received and whether other issues were also on the table.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board planned a 4 p.m. news conference to provide an investigative update on the Saturday train accident that left two BART workers dead.

[For the record, 4:01 p.m. PDT, Monday, Oct. 21: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to federal mediator Greg Lim as George Lim.]

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lee.romney@latimes.com