BART Official Says Unions, Transit Agency $100M Apart

The Bay Area Rapid Transit agency and its unions are $100 million apart in their contract proposals, BART's senior attorney said on Wednesday during testimony before a three-member panel appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to investigate the contract dispute.

Vicki Nuetzel said she based the figure on wage and benefit proposals that both sides have put on the table. "Simply looking at wages and benefits, it is clear there are significant areas of difference between the parties,'' she said.

BART's general manager, Grace Crunican, also testified earlier that the parties were not close to a deal.

"Unfortunately, we remain far apart on the major issues of this contract,'' Crunican said. "That is why we are here today.''

Union officials were expected to testify later on Wednesday.

Brown ordered the panel's investigation on Sunday, with a strike that threatened to snarl Monday morning's commute looming.

The board was given seven days to submit its findings to the governor, who can then petition a court to call a 60-day cooling off period in the negotiations. BART trains would continue to run during such a cooling-off period.

But there is potential for a strike on Monday if Brown does not seek or receive a cooling-off period, and the two sides are unable to reach a deal by Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District reached a tentative agreement with its employees late Tuesday, avoiding a strike that would have affected about 180,000 passengers who use its buses to get around the East Bay region every day.

The deal, which still has to be ratified by the rank-and-file, gives about 1,800 drivers, dispatchers, and maintenance and clerical workers a 9.5 percent raise over the course of the three-year deal, and employees would contribute to their medical benefits, according to a statement from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192.

The union had vowed to go on strike at midnight if a deal wasn't reached.

"Obviously we're extremely gratified that we got to this point without a disruption in service,'' said AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson.

The BART dispute resulted in a 4 1/2-day strike last month and is threatening another one that could strand many of BART's estimated 400,000 daily riders as soon as next week. The parties continue to squabble over wages, pension and employees' health care contribution.

BART spokesman Rick Rice said Tuesday that he expects the governor to make a decision "very, very quickly'' after receiving the special board's report.

Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, one of two unions in talks with BART, said they are disappointed that the board is convening at all.

"This could've and should've been resolved more than a month ago on June 30,'' Bryant said. "We should not have gone to a 30-day extension and then another seven days. (BART) should've settled it.''

Rice said the parties are discussing returning to the bargaining table Thursday, however, and may continue talking through the weekend, if necessary.

"If we can reach an agreement before then, there won't be a need for the governor's recommendation,'' Rice said.

BART employees represented by ATU and the local Service Employees International Union average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. They pay nothing toward their pensions and a $92-a-month flat fee for health insurance, according to BART.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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