SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS/KPIX 5) – Bay Area Rapid Transit workers embroiled in contentious labor negotiations were voting Tuesday on whether to authorize a strike when their current contract expires Sunday night.
The two major unions representing 2,375 BART employees planned to release the results of the strike vote on Wednesday.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which posted an alert on its 511.org website warning of a potential BART strike come Monday, said it was putting together a contingency plan that included using extra San Francisco Municipal Railway buses, light-rail vehicles and ferry service.
But further complicating the situation was ongoing labor battles from East Bay bus systems. Both Alameda County’s AC Transit and Contra Costa County’s WestCAT could see their contracts expire at the end of the month. AC Transit workers have said they may also strike.
“They’ve all got contracts expiring on June 30th, so there is a great deal of uncertainty,” said MTC spokesman John Goodwin. “If there is a BART strike, travel around the region is going to be impacted – in some cases it may be severe.”
Goodwin suggested commuters work from home, carpool, or telecommute in the event of a strike to avoid very heavy traffic on the roads and overcrowding on whatever other public transit systems are still operating.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1221 – which represent train drivers, mechanics, station agents and maintenance workers – are fighting efforts by BART to have workers contribute to pensions, pay more for health insurance, and help reduce overtime expenses.
Employees currently pay $92 a month for health insurance, no matter the plan or how many people are covered. BART officials have said the agency wants to increase that payment, but they have offered no public details on an amount.
The transit agency said it needs to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements, while the unions contend BART has a $125 million operating surplus.
At a union news conference Tuesday, SEIU spokeswoman Leah Berlanga said worker safety concerns also remained a key sticking point in the negotiations. She said improved lighting on the tracks and in the stations were among the safety measures being sought by the unions.
“BART has not addressed safety issues and proposals we put on the table,” Berlanga said, referencing a lawsuit filed by the unions in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday alleging BART has failed to bargain in good faith over the worker safety issue.
But BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost indicated that union leaders hadn’t mentioned safety issues in their own internal communications about the labor talks, instead emphasizing matters such as salaries, benefits and work rules.
Trost told KCBS that she thought the union’s recent focus on safety was a smokescreen to cover-up for their request for a “23-percent pay increase.”
Nonetheless, Trost held out hope that a strike could be averted when contract talks resumed on Wednesday with the help of state mediators.
“We think there is a deal to be had,” she said, “we think we are getting closer.”
The last BART strike happened in 1997 and lasted six days.
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