BART GM: There’s Enough Time To Get A New Contract
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — BART’s general manager said she understands the public’s anxiousness about the possibility of another strike by the transit agency’s workers Monday but she believes there’s still enough time to reach a deal before then.
Noting that employees’ contracts don’t expire until midnight Sunday, General Manager Grace Crunican said Friday, “We’ve got three days and that’s a very long time when you’ve come as far as we have.”
Crunican said management and union negotiators have reached agreement on small supplemental issues and “progress is being made” on what she believes are the biggest issues: wages, pension and health care contributions and having employees work 40 hours a week.
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Most BART employees only work 37.5 hours a week. Crunican said her message to BART’s riders is, “We’re working very hard with the unions to try to get a god deal for our riders and the unions, as well.”
She said the two sides need to reach “a balance” that would improve BART employees’ compensation but at the same time reserve enough money to pay for the transit agency’s long-term needs, which she said are acquiring 1,000 new train cars by 2023, improving the Hayward maintenance yard and building a new train control system.
Crunican said she’s “sorry” BART riders, who endured a four-and-a-half day strike by employees at the beginning of July, now face the possibility of another strike but pledged that both sides will work throughout the weekend to try to reach an agreement.
“I know the anxiousness that wells up and I understand that,” Crunican said.
Leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, notified BART on Thursday night that their members will go on strike Monday if a deal isn’t reached by midnight Sunday.
Members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes 210 members who mostly are middle managers, were negotiating separately from the two bigger unions but would honor picket lines if there’s a strike.
SEIU Local 1021 negotiator Leah Berlanga urged BART directors at their meeting this morning to take a more active role in the contract talks and said, “We do not want to go on strike – that’s the last resort for us.”
But Crunican said that although BART directors gave updated bargaining instructions to management and its negotiators at a closed session Friday, “The play is at the table now” and it ultimately will be up to the 10 negotiators for BART and the 26 negotiators for the unions to reach an agreement.
Similarly, Crunican said she doesn’t plan to ask Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a 60-day cooling off period in the talks because the two sides will have to come to an agreement on their own.
She said, “Plan A is to get an agreement by Sunday night, Plan B is to get an agreement by Sunday night and Plan C is that if there isn’t a new contract by then we keep working until we have one.” Crunican said, “There are still a lot of avenues left so that the unions don’t have to strike and we don’t need to impose a contract.”
Union leaders have spent much of the past several weeks criticizing BART management’s chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, alleging that he’s engaging in hardball tactics and trying to force employees to go on strike. They also have called on BART to hire a new negotiator because they think that would make it easier for the two sides to reach an agreement.
But Crunican defended the transit agency’s decision to hire Hock, saying, “Thomas Hock is our negotiator, always has been and always will be.” She said Hock “is a tough negotiator but we get to pick who we want and they get to pick who they (the unions) want.”
Crunican said she believes the unions’ criticism of Hock is an attempt to “obfuscate the real issue,” which she said she believes that their initial goal of seeking a 23 percent pay increase over four years wasn’t realistic. She alleged that the unions “want to talk about something else.”
BART employees previously went on strike the morning of July 1 but late on July 4 they agreed to extend their previous contract for 30 days, until Aug. 4, and return to work the afternoon of July 5.
A state mediator and a federal mediator are facilitating the contract talks, according to Paul Oversier, BART’s assistant general manager for operations.
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