With only five weeks left before a 60-day cooling off period expires, negotiators for BART management and its labor unions didn't meet at the bargaining table Thursday but instead traded allegations that the other side is bargaining in bad faith.
First, BART Board President Tom Radulovich held a news conference at the transit agency's headquarters to claim that management has made "a good faith effort" to improve its offer to its employees but claim "we haven't seen commensurate movement on the other side."
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, then responded by accusing management of negotiating in the press instead of at the bargaining table and of releasing inaccurate information to the public.
ATU Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant alleged that management is releasing numbers about wage and benefit proposals that are "incorrect, half-baked and erroneous." Bryant, a station agent who's worked for BART for 22 years and has participated in several prior contract negotiations, said the talks this year are "the most contentious and argumentative" she's even been in and alleged that management's proposals "are clearly aimed at forcing a strike."
BART employees in fact did go on strike for four-and-a-half days at the beginning of July when contract talks that began on April 1 failed to reach an agreement but workers agreed to go back to work for a month while negotiations continued.
The key issues in the talks are employee wages and how much they contribute toward the cost of their health and pension benefits.
BART employees threatened to go on strike again in early August, but on Aug. 11, a judge ordered a 60-day cooling-off period at the request of BART management and Gov. Jerry Brown. The cooling-off period expires on Oct. 10 but Radulovich admitted that there has been very little negotiating since the period began.
However, Radulovich said, "The problem with negotiations has not been the number of meetings, it is the unrealistic nature of the union proposals. Until union leadership starts putting forward reasonable proposals, we will be unable to settle this."
He said BART management began negotiations by not offering any wage increase for four years but is now offering a 10 percent wage hike over that term. But Radulovich said the unions "are stubbornly insisting on raises of 20 percent or more" over three years. He said, "We don't think that will get us there" in terms of reaching an agreement.
However, SEIU Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez said management's latest proposal would still "put workers behind" where they currently are financially because their wage increase would be offset by increased contributions for their health care and pension benefits.
"Any agreement has to be fair and equitable," Sanchez said.