BART Strike Still Real Possibility

BART management and union leaders, who have been negotiating  without success since April 1, resumed their war of words after members  of the transit agency's second-largest union voted unanimously against  management's contract offer.
Jesse Hunt, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555,  which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers,  said about three-quarters of his members voted on the offer Tuesday and all  of those who voted cast "no" votes.

Members of BART's largest union, the BART chapter of Local 1021 of  the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1,400  mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, will vote on  the contract proposal on Thursday.

At the voting location, the union was already asking for people to sign up for picket times.  That is not a good sign for BART riders.

Local 1021 spokesman Carlos Rivera said the results will be  available sometime after 8 p.m. Thursday. Rivera declined to predict the  outcome of the vote, saying the union's leaders "want to let the membership  decide."

Hunt said his members are upset that management didn't give  serious consideration to a proposal by BART's unions that he said would  achieve $760 million in long-term savings.

Hunt said the union proposal would save $700 million over 25 years  by extending from five years to 15 years the time period before employees  would be eligible for retirement health benefits.

He said the proposal would save another $60 million over the next  two years.

Hunt accused BART management of having "a take-it-or-leave-it attitude" and alleged that once management made its offer last Thursday night it refused to properly consider the unions' proposal.

But BART spokesman Linton Johnson said the unions' offer fails to address the immediate fiscal crisis the transit agency faces, as it's trying  to save $100 million in labor costs as part of its effort to deal with its large budget deficit, which is expected to be $310 million over the next four  years.

Johnson also said changing the eligibility period for retirement health benefits isn't possible under the rules of the state's retirement  plan, alleging that the unions are proposing to switch to a plan the state doesn't even offer.

Johnson said an actuarial analysis that will be discussed at a special BART board meeting on Thursday finds that the unions' projections are  hundreds of millions of dollars short of the purported $760 million in  savings.

He said the analysis shows that the unions' proposal "at best saves us a little money and at worst costs us money."

Jean Hamilton, the president of BART's third-largest union, Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,  which represents about 200 middle managers, said she still hasn't scheduled a  vote for her members because she said she needs to get more information from  management.

Members of ATU Local 1555, SEIU Local 1021 and AFSCME Local 3993 all voted overwhelmingly last month to approve a strike if a settlement isn't reached on a new contract.

There also are two small unions that prepresent BART police officers and managers. However, they're barred from oing on strike.

Johnson said the police unions haven't yet scheduled a vote on management's proposal because they're still meeting with management.

Johnson alleged that the leaders of SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555 "in effect staged a publicity stunt" shortly after 11 p.m. last Thursday  night when they told a large group of reporters who gathered outside the  negotiating site and said they were unhappy with management's offer but would  take it to their members for a vote.

The announcement was made shortly before the contract for union members expired at midnight Thursday.

Johnson said when the union leaders made their announcement management was still in the process of fleshing out its proposal to AFSCME  Local 3993 and the police unions.

Although the unions theoretically could go on strike at any time,  Hunt said his union doesn't have any strike plans at this time and other  union leaders also said they don't have any immediate strike plans.

However, Hunt said all options, including a strike, are on the  table if management doesn't negotiate in good faith.

The unions previously said that they might ask Gov. Arnold  Schwarzenegger to declare a 60-day cooling-off period in negotiations but  Schwarzenegger announced on Tuesday that he won't take that step if he's asked to do so.

BART directors sent the governor a letter last month asking him  not to declare a cooling-off period.

Johnson said the most likely next step in the process is that  contract talks, with the help of state mediators, will resume Monday afternoon.

Johnson said that in the unlikely event that SEIU Local 1021  members approve the contract, BART's board would approve and implement the contract with that union and continue negotiating with the other unions.


Bay City News contributed to this report.

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