OAKLAND (CBS SF) — BART General Manager Grace Crunican said Friday that management wants to change work rules for its employees in order to save money and make the transit system operate more efficiently.

Crunican said work rules for one of BART’s unions, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, are 465 pages long.

In a brief statement to reporters at BART headquarters in Oakland, Crunican said, “You can’t run a railroad with this book of rules.”

She said, “It’s common sense that when technology changes, everyday work rules need to change as well.”

Crunican, who didn’t take any questions from reporters, said management is ready to resume contract talks in hopes of ending a strike by employees that began Friday.

“Our negotiator has been in contact with the mediator and BART stands ready to resume negotiations at any time,” she said.

When leaders of ATU Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, announced on Thursday that workers would go on strike, they alleged that management derailed contract talks by asking for major work rule changes this week.

But BART officials said Friday that management has been asking for work rule changes since contract negotiations began in April and they didn’t ask for any additional changes this week.

The management officials, who briefed reporters but didn’t want their names used, said the changes they are seeking would save tens of millions of dollars a year and help BART pay for the wage increases it is offering to employees as well as set aside money to pay for improving the transit system in the future.

BART officials said work rule changes would help them reduce overtime costs, which they said were $24 million last year just for ATU Local 1555 employees.

Management said they want to have the flexibility to have the schedule for some jobs to be for ten hours a day for four days a week and other jobs for eight hours a day for five days a week, depending on the nature of the job.

BART officials said four ten-hour shifts make the most sense for workers who do important maintenance work when there is limited or no train service late at night and on weekends because they want to take full advantage of that time window.

But five eight-hour shifts are better for other jobs, they said.

BART officials said they actually want some train operators to work 15 or 30 minutes of overtime five days a week so the operators can complete two roundtrips each day.

They said it would be inefficient if the train drivers worked four ten-hour shifts because there would then be at least an hour of wasted time every day.

BART officials said they also would like to change the work rules for so-called “extra board” train operators who fill in for regular train operators who call in sick or who don’t come to work for other reasons, such as if they’re undergoing training.

Management officials said the work rules mandate that the extra train drivers can’t report to most BART stations but only to one of four maintenance yards in the system.

BART officials cited the example of an extra train operator who reports to the Hayward maintenance yard instead of to the Dublin station, which is the endpoint of one of the transit system’s routes.

The extra driver gets paid for traveling on BART to and from the Dublin station as well as two hours of “penalty time,” BART officials said.

They told reporters they want to change that rule because it is “grossly inefficient and is wasteful and unnecessary.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 workers and supporters gathered at a noontime rally Friday at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland to protest what they say are unfair labor practices by the agency’s management.

Dozens of BART workers wore union shirts and toted signs with messages such as “On Strike” and “Replace the BART Board.”

Attendees heard from about a dozen union representatives and leaders of local organizations standing in support with the unions during the strike.

One ATU Local 1555 representative, veteran train operator Chris Finn, told the crowd that the BART unions did all they could to avoid a strike.

Finn, who has been part of the union’s bargaining team during the lengthy negotiations with management, said Friday afternoon that ATU officials had not received any offers from BART to return to the bargaining table.

“They are intent on causing a strike,” he said. “They are hoping the public will not support it.”

Union leaders Friday said that the union representatives and transit agency management were nearing an agreement over the financial terms of the contract.

But as talks drew to a close, Finn said, BART management “brought up a proposal … to effectively kill unions’ rights to bargain.”

The proposed changes could allow management to make decisions about major workplace procedures, such as scheduling, without first consulting the unions, per the current practice, said Gary Jimenez, SEIU Local 1021’s East Bay regional vice president.

“Obviously, workers are fighting that, because everyone wants to have a say in how their workplace is run,” Jimenez said.

“They want to impose changes in the workplace without mutual agreement,” he said.

Union officials say talks also broke down over BART management’s proposal to do away with a contract clause known as “beneficial past practices,” including doing away with paper paychecks and converting to an all-electronic payment system.

“Not everyone has access to a computer,” Jimenez said.

He disputed BART management’s arguments that eliminating beneficial past practices would make the transit system more efficient, citing BART’s on-time record of more than 95 percent.

“We are sorry that it’s come to this, we absolutely did not want it to come to this,” Jimenez said. “But when management comes back with ‘take it or leave it,’ it left us no choice.”

He said union members plan to man picket lines at the Lake Merritt station until the strike ends, as well as at SEIU offices throughout the Bay Area.

(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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