BART and its three largest employee unions have reached a tentative agreement to extend their current contract by four years and avoid a potential worker strike.
The new deal, which is expected to be ratified by union members and the BART Board of Directors in the coming weeks, will remain in place through 2021. It comes with the promise of a 10.5 percent salary increase, spread over the agreement's duration, according to a BART statement.
It also buys some time for both sides to negotiate the agency's pension agreement, which is currently the subject of a lawsuit between the State of California and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Officials made the "major announcement" Monday morning at a news conference at BART headquarters. General Manager Grace Crunican was flanked by SEIU Local 1021 President John Arantes, ATU Local 1555 President Chris Finn, SEIU Local 1021 Professional Chapter President Olivia Rocha and AFSCME Local 3993 President Sal Cruz.
"This is a pivotal moment in BART's history in labor relations," Cruz said. "The amount of collaboration it took to make this happen was tremendous."
BART's current contract -- brokered after a contentious 2013 strike -- will end next year.
Workers went on strike in July 2013, shutting the system downfor several days over complaints about pay and safety concerns. A second strike began in October 2013.
BART board president Tom Radulovich said the resulting contract was "not a terrible agreement, but it was a terrible process in getting there."
"We really let the Bay Area down," he said.
According to a BART statement, past hurdles informed the groups' decision to begin working on the new contract "early and focus on the articulation of some common goals...This [tentative agreement] will provide the region and our riders with consistent and uninterrupted service for the next five years."
It will allow both workers and management staff to focus their "collective energy" on "rebuilding BART."
BART management and union leaders began working together roughly two years ago, Finn said. The two sides met in November for a two-day meeting, which he said was successful in advancing the current contract.
"Now was about the time where we had to decide, are we going to dedicate our resources to focusing on preparing for upcoming negotiations in 2017, or are we going to focus our resources on keeping BART moving?" Finn said.
The labor agreement comes at a time when BART has been under fire for system failures, including electrical problems that disabled trains between BART's Pittsburg/Bay Point and North Concord/Martinez stations, causing massive delays and forcing riders onto shuttles between the two East Bay stations for several weeks.
"Our fleet of rail cars is the oldest in the nation and it is run the hardest," the BART statement continued, acknowledging that the service's "reliability rate is slipping due to age and crowding."
BART is slated to head to the ballot in November to ask for voter approval for a $3.5 billion bond measure to fund an infrastructure rehaul, something the aging system is in dire need of.
"The bond measure is about capital investment in the system," Crunican said. "None of that money can be used to pay the workers. This will all be paid for on the operating side of the budget."