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Union Leaders Urge BART Board To Step Up To Negotiating Table

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BART strike, workers

Amalgamated Transit Union workers hold signs as they strike outside of a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station on July 1, 2013 in Oakland. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

OAKLAND (CBS SF) – With less than 72 hours remaining before another potential BART strike on Monday morning, union leaders urged the transit agency’s board of directors to take a more active role in contract talks Friday.

Leah Berlanga, a negotiator for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, was one of many union members who spoke to BART board members at a special meeting of the directors in Oakland this morning.

“This is not the time to take a back seat,” Berlanga said.

She told the directors to “take this a little more seriously” and said they should come to the ongoing contract talks “so you can see if things are moving.”

Veteran BART Board member James Fang said Thursday that the negotiations to date are the worst he has seen during his tenure.

“They’re just talking at each other,” said Fang. “I don’t know how much give and take there is…it’s just not fluid. There is no communication.”

Fang said the BART Board’s participation couldn’t hurt.

Leaders of SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, notified BART management on Thursday night that their members will go on strike on Monday morning if an agreement isn’t reached before their contract expires at the end of Sunday.

Berlanga told the board, “We do not want to go on strike – that’s the last resort for us.”

Des Patten, president of the BART professional chapter of SEIU Local 1021, said negotiators have “made progress” on supplemental issues because the unions have had a good dialogue with BART negotiator Bruce Cohen.

But Patten said, “That’s just not happening on the general issues” at the heart of the labor dispute, which are wages, pension contributions, health care contributions and worker safety.

Patten blamed the stalemate on Thomas Hock, BART management’s negotiator on those issues, alleging that Hock doesn’t engage in meaningful dialogue and merely says that he doesn’t like the unions’ contract proposals but doesn’t explain why.

After union members finished speaking during the public comment section of the board’s meeting, directors went into closed session to provide direction to management and its negotiators on how to proceed in contract talks.

The talks were scheduled to resume Friday after the board meeting and will continue throughout the weekend.

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 and return to work.

Regional transit officials fear that the four-and-a-half-day strike that snarled local highways and caused commuting headaches for Bay Area residents in July will be repeated if BART and its employees don’t reach an agreement by Sunday night.

Another potential strike is frustrating many riders, including Aaron Serber, 30, who commutes every morning from Hayward to Civic Center for his job.

Serber called the train stoppage an “added stressor” and said his commute during the July strike took an hour longer each way.

He said the unions and management need to “get to the table and hammer it out.”

Although he said he is sympathetic to labor groups, he called their pay, pension and medical demands “a little unrealistic.”

A state worker who comes into the city from Orinda every day became angry when talking about the looming strike.

She said her commute during the July strike took four hours and that she plans to take Monday off if another strike occurs.

The woman, who declined to give her name, said the strike holds riders hostage and that the workers “should not be allowed to strike.”

Concord resident Laura Fischer, 60, said during the last strike that she had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to work in San Francisco.

This time around, Fischer said she doesn’t know how she will get to work, but hopes to catch a seat on a BART-operated bus at the Concord station.

She said the riders are not represented during the contract talks and called the union demands “greedy” and “unrealistic.”

“It’s going to be all on us,” she said, pointing to fellow riders at the station.

Danville resident Megan Miller, who works at University of California Hastings College of the Law, said a strike “puts a real strain on my ability to come in” to work.

Miller, 36, who catches a train every morning at the Walnut Creek BART station, said the 30 days of negotiations should have been long enough for the two sides to come to an agreement.

“There must be some other way other than inconveniencing the entire Bay Area,” Miller said.

She said she is sympathetic to the workers, but she thinks they are adequately compensated.

During a strike, she said both sides could suffer because riders will become frustrated with the impact on them.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said at a City Hall news conference this morning that city officials support the riders.

“Riders need a voice at this table,” Lee said.

He said Bay Area residents, businesses and other transit systems want management and union leaders to reach an agreement.

“This is no longer a matter of inconvenience to the rider, it’s a hardship,” Lee said.

The mayor said he is hopeful that by the Sunday night deadline, a deal can be met.

“We cannot waste any time … we need to get an agreement,” he said.

State Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Marty Morgenstern said Gov. Jerry Brown is concerned about another strike and will be making every possible effort to avert a work stoppage.

“Failure to reach an agreement will be a serious failure,” Morgenstern said.

Although he did not specify what action Brown could take, he said “it’s time for this to end.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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