OAKLAND (KCBS/KPIX 5) — For the first time since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 60-day cooling-off period, Bay Area Rapid Transit management and its unions returned to the bargaining table Monday and resumed negotiations to try and avoid a strike that would result in service shutdown.
“I do not want to see a strike, I urge the parties to get real,” said Brown, who expressed concern to reporters about the fact that the two sides had not held any negotiations since the cooling-off period went into effect. It ends on Oct. 10, which means BART workers could walk off the job at that point.
The governor maintained he did pretty much all he could do under the law to alleviate the situation and said it’s now up to BART and the unions to settle their differences.
“I’ve exercised my power and that was the cooling off period. It’s now within the frame work of collective bargaining which says that both sides talk together but if they don’t agree, workers can go on strike. But I would urge them very strongly not to do that,” the governor said.
While both sides maintain they want to avoid another BART strike, they remain divided over pay, benefits and workplace safety. The two sides remain particularly far apart over pay with BART offering a 10 percent hike over four years and the unions asking for a 21.5 percent cut over the next three years.
“We’re look forward to getting back the table and hoping to hear some real progress,” BART spokesman Rick Rice told KCBS before talks began for the day. “BART management is committed to doing everything possible to get a fair deal but one that’s sustainable for the system and fair to taxpayers and riders.”
Service Employees International Union Local 1021 negotiator Saul Almanza said he agreed with the governor that the talks should have resumed sooner – and blamed BART officials for the delay.
“We would have continued those talks at the start of the cooling-off period but the district decided to send us back to work,” Almanza said, adding that the unions want a deal and not a work stoppage.
UC Berkeley professor and labor expert Harley Shaiken said a new BART shutdown would not be in the interest of either side.
“I think both sides understand that the public could prove decisive because ultimately political pressure could be a vital component of any settlement,” he explained.
There has been discussion about a plan by BART managers to train some of the 200 managers to operate trains if a strike occurs at the end of the cooling-off period.
“That’s a planning exercise right now. We’re not sure we’re going to be able to do that, but I will say that that’s something we’re looking at,” said BART Assistant General Manager of operations Paul Oversier.
The problem with that strategy, according to Almanza with the SEIU, is that he and his colleagues are the ones who would actually have to train the managers to operate the trains and they would be reluctant to do so during this bitter labor battle.
“It doesn’t just take someone to sit in a cab and operate the train. It also takes the support staff and maintenance folks to make sure that the train control systems are working properly, the electrical systems are working properly and the track systems are working properly,” he noted.
Almanza contended that managers operating the system would put rider safety in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, state Republican lawmakers have called for a special session of the Legislature to try and pass a bill that would bar another strike by BART workers and force binding arbitration on both sides to settle the dispute.
But the governor indicated Monday that he was unlikely to call a special session, citing a prior rejection by lawmakers of the idea.
“The matter was discussed in (the regular legislative) session and rejected,” said Brown, who spoke to reporters from San Francisco’s Exploratorium as he helped celebrate the expansion of the fleet of electric cars available to Californians.
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