Oakland Unions Threaten General Strike

Bay Area labor disputes are coming to a head in several unions across the Bay Area.

Unions leaders representing BART, the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Park District employees held a boisterous rally in front of Oakland City Hall Friday. All of them are either planning or threatening to strike as early as Monday.

The last time there was a general strike in Oakland was in 1946, but union members said it might be time for another mass labor action.

"The middle class is mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," union representative Pete Castelli said.

The union representing Oakland's city workers has called for a work stoppage on Monday, July 1. The city's union contract expires on July 1 and union representatives said the latest negotiations have been "unproductive." 

Union representatives said, no matter if BART shuts down or not, city workers will not be at work Monday. East Bay Parks employees plan to strike on July 3 and 4.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement issued Friday, "We are continuing to do everything we can to accelerate negotiations and avert a strike. We are willing to negotiate through the weekend, day or night, because we know there is a fair-share agreement to be made."

Two of BART's unions have not officially called a strike, but gave BART management a 72-hour notice late Thursday, saying its workers may strike beginning Monday if a new contract agreement is not reached.

The BART unions say the letter was delivered at 10:45 p.m. Representatives told NBC Bay Area it will continue negotiating. BART management said it wanted to continue negotiating as well.

"There was some progress yesterday, with both sides making proposals and responses. We're looking forward to continuing that when we meet again today and through the weekend. There is still plenty of time to reach an agreement before the threatened strike Monday,” BART spokesman Rick Rice said early Friday.

Contract negotiations between BART and two of its unions are scheduled to take place day and night through the weekend, but the 11 a.m. negotiation scheduled for Friday was delayed by hours. 

The unions' contracts expire Sunday at 11:59 p.m.

Any work stoppage would have a huge impact on the commute as 400,000 daily BART riders have to find a new way to get around.  BART urged driver to "know your commute plan" and released tips for getting around if BART trains aren't running. BART said all 33 of its parking lots will be available at no charge for people who use the station as a meet up point for casual or organized carpools. 

Thursday's negotiations, which ended at 10:40 p.m., got off to a rocky start. The union claimed BART management of bargaining in bad faith by presenting their latest contract proposal to the news media before giving it to the unions.

"They should bring this proposal to us first," Leo Ruiz, a spokesman for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 said.

A BART spokesman, who declined to go into specifics about the new proposal, said in a Thursday morning news conference BART was putting a new comprehensive proposal on the bargaining table. BART spokesman Rick Rice said management's proposal is "closer" to the unions' positions on the key issues regarding pensions, health benefits and salaries.

"Hopefully, this will give us some more progress and something to talk about,'' Rice said. "We're making improvement in our offer, that's negotiations. I would in no way characterize it as caving (in).''

Earlier this week, leaders of the two unions representing BART's train drivers, mechanics, station agents and maintenance workers announced that 98-percent of the rank and file have voted to walk off the job if the negotiations fail.

AC Transit workers have also authorized a strike and their contract also ends on June 30.

The President of the Board of AC Transit told NBC Bay Area a service interruption was unlikely on Monday.

Greg Harper said it has a contingency plan in place in case of a BART strike. Buses would be able accommodate 30-percent of the cross-bay riders usually served by BART every morning.

There is a chance of a "sick out" on Monday. If that happens, Harper said all bets are off.

BART management has said the labor unions are seeking a 23 percent salary increase over three years but Ruiz said the unions' opening offer was for a smaller increase of 5 percent a year plus cost-of-living increases.

The unions also say they're fighting management's efforts to have workers contribute to pensions, pay more for health insurance, and help reduce overtime expenses.

The last time BART employees staged a strike was in September 1997. The walkout lasted six days and caused gridlock on the Bay Bridge.

In 1997, BART had some 275,000 riders. Now about 400,000 riders use BART each weekday, according to AP.

Below is a letter to the BART board from Local 1555 dated Friday:

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555

June 28, 2013
To the elected BART Board of Directors:
Last night we notified your representatives of our intention to strike as of  Monday, July 1.  This was a not a decision that was made lightly.  It comes after months of frustration with your negotiating team whose members have dismissed every important proposal we've made about salaries, pensions and health and safety by saying nothing more than "No," or "We're not interested." 
We owe it to the people who rely on BART and the people of the San Francisco Bay Area to be honest and fair with each other and work out a contract on time. We have done everything we can -- and will continue to do everything we can -- to sign a fair, equitable contract that honors BART's frontline workers for the job they do and that helps sustain the high quality of this great transit system.
But since April 1, it's been clear that these "negotiations" were never about negotiating to you. They were about politics. As you do every four years, you hire high priced consultants to run a vicious political attack campaign against your own workforce, distorting our salaries, denigrating our work, and running down this great system for your political advantage by fabricating a phony budget crisis that everyone but you is supposed to pay for.
This time you've gone too far.  We have made numerous proposals to you during these "negotiations" about addressing serious safety and health issues on this system that impact the lives of thousands of BART workers and riders.  Batteries against station agents have quadrupled since your 2009 hiring freeze. Almost 1,000 BART workers and patrons have been physically attacked in the past three years. The number of assaults on the system in the first four months alone of this year is as high as all of last year. Station agents have been punched, pushed down stairways, assaulted by gangs, robbed, threatened and spit on. Train operators are facing an increasing number of traumatic events on the lines.
We have repeatedly made serious, concrete, and affordable recommendations to address these challenges. Your response? To quote your part-time $400,000 part-time negotiator, "we're not interested." Only yesterday did you agree to "discuss" these issues -- sometime in the future. 
Finally, BART has a surplus, not a deficit.  You can't cover that up.  In just the past four months the amount of your phony budget "deficit" (as phony as the deficit you claimed in 2009) has fluctuated from $3 billion, to $5 billion, to $7 billion, to $10 billion -- and this week to $15 billion. This is a political budget, not a fiscal one.  It's impossible to negotiate using rubber numbers that keep bouncing around with your political whims. These numbers aren't real, they're your projections. Just as bad, you continue to publicly smear your own work force by averaging in our salaries and benefits with those of your General Manager and other executives, whose compensation is $400,000 and higher. 
We don't make $134,000 as your website claims.  As a Station Agent with 20 years experience, my salary is $61,000. Were I to retire today, my pension would be $21,000 a year – and I'm not eligible for Social Security.  And our pensions are not breaking this system.  BART's pension system is 92% funded -- an envy of many in the business. 
You know all this (you can confirm it at http://www.wemakebartwork.com/bart-facts/ <http://www.wemakebartwork.com/bart-facts/> ).  Yet you continue to hide behind your high-priced consultants and refuse to negotiate in good faith.  It's impossible to reach a negotiated settlement beginning with numbers based on politics rather than reality.  BART today has a massive budget surplus. Your own analysts project a $125 million surplus for years to come.
This is why we've declared a strike, and asked Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. to officially declare a 60-day "Cooling Off" period -- so we can sit down and seriously negotiate a contract.  All we want is fair compensation and a safe workplace.  We will continue to do everything we can to reach a negotiated settlement by the deadline, and call upon you to do the same. We owe that to BART's riders, and the people of the Bay Area. 
Antonette Bryant
President, Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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