BART Director on Sunday Strike: “Cross Fingers”

It's going to be a rocky Monday morning commute

BART workers will strike Sunday at midnight, a spokesman for the transit agency's second largest union announced Thursday.

The strike plan came just hours after BART's board of directors voted unanimously to impose terms and conditions of employment for members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, in the absence of an agreed-on contract.

BART Director James Fang was not very reassuring in a press conference held Thursday evening: Riders, he said, should "cross their fingers." He said that he wanted to bring the ATU "back into the family" through continued negotiations.

The union's move to strike is expected to leave hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded on both sides of the bay and clog the area's highways and bridges next week. About 340,000 people ride BART, the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system, each weekday.

The union had said they would walk off the job as soon as a contract went into effect, but said they decided to give the public 72 hours notice to get prepared. Although BART's two other unions approved the contract deal ahead of the board vote, they said they will not cross the ATU's picket lines. That means the entire system will be shut down Monday morning.

Jesse Hunt, president of ATU Local 1555, said the contract the board approved was a more regressive proposal that called for a 7 percent pay cut.

BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said after the board vote, "This is not the outcome I would have hoped to be announcing today."    

However, she said, "We must take action to achieve savings and put  the district on more stable ground."

Linton Johnson, BART's self-styled "chief spokesman," said the vote "was regrettable  but had to be done to stop the bleeding," pointing out the agency is losing money daily due to the expense of negotiations and the cost of continuing under the terms of the previous contract.    

BART board member Joel Keller said he reluctantly supported  imposing the work and pay rules because "all of the economic indicators are going down," including BART's ridership and sales tax revenues.

Johnson said that talks with leaders of the ATU ended at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday in an impasse, but maintained that the union still has time to negotiate rather than proceeding with a strike.

ATU Local 1555 represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers. BART's other unions are Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents about 1,500 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, and American Federation of Local, State and Municipal Employees Union Local 3993, which represents about 200 middle managers.

He said management also wants to eliminate work rules that it believes are inefficient and costly but that those changes wouldn't result in any immediate loss of jobs.

Johnson said the proposed new work rules would only result in the loss of five jobs through attrition and there wouldn't be any layoffs.

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