SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — With Bay Area Rapid Transit unions set to go on strike for a second time if they don’t reach agreement on a new contract by Sunday night, a newly-released KPIX 5 poll finds the public, by a margin of over 2-to-1, thinks BART management has made a better case than have the unions.
BART’s two largest unions issued a 72-hour strike notice Thursday evening, which means workers could be on strike for the Monday morning commute. The unions went on strike last month, shutting down service for four days before agreeing to extend their contracts for 30 days and continue negotiations.
The KPIX poll, also released Thursday evening, showed 44% of Bay Area residents believe BART has made a better case for its position in the labor dispute, compared to only 19% for the unions; 29% felt neither side has made a good case, while 5% said both sides made equally compelling arguments and 3% had no opinion.
Key sticking points in the labor dispute include wages, pensions, health care costs and worker safety.
BART is the nation’s fifth-largest rail system and serves more than 400,000 commuters each weekday; 55% of those surveyed who normally take BART said they would instead drive if there was another strike – creating a likely traffic nightmare.
The July 1-4 strike snarled local highways and caused commuting headaches throughout the region, and officials braced for a repeat occurrence if a deal isn’t reached.
The results of the poll of 800 Bay Area adults, conducted for KPIX by the firm SurveyUSA with a margin of error of 4.3%, came at the end of a day in which BART officials and union leaders held dueling news conferences to try to win the public’s support with only three days remaining before another potential strike.
Thursday started with Antonette Bryant, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, and other union leaders alleging at a morning news conference that BART management’s lead negotiator, Thomas Hock, has a history of engaging in hardball tactics and forcing strikes.
Bryant accused Hock and BART of engaging in “surface bargaining,” which she said is a technique designed not to make progress.
“We come to the table every day to bargain but we can’t bargain with ourselves,” Bryant said, alleging that BART management isn’t participating in a meaningful way.
BART spokespersons then held a midday news conference to say that although the transit agency’s employees deserved a raise, their new contract must address the escalating cost of their benefit packages.
BART spokesman Jim Allison contended the agency’s medical costs had grown 251 percent in 12 years and its pension costs had grown 126 percent in 10 years, so it must begin to “normalize” employees’ benefits too so they’re closer to those earned by other public employees.
BART must keep its costs under control because it will need to make $6 billion in improvements to keep its trains system safe and reliable, Allison maintained.
Management met at the bargaining table at noon Thursday with negotiators for ATU Local 1555 members and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical orkers, but talks ended about 4 p.m. when union members left to participate in a rally and march at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.
Bryant said the unions’ felt justified in leaving the talks at 4 p.m. because management has left the bargaining table early at other sessions when the unions wanted to keep talking.
BART spokesman Rick Rice said negotiating sessions were scheduled for each of the next three days.
Bryant said both sides had reached tentative agreements on some minor issues in the contract talks but said they still had a lot of work to do before they could reach agreements on the big issues in the talks.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. Bay City News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)