Tentative agreement stops BART strike

LATE SUNDAY evening, a transportation workers' strike was called off after a special round of extended negotiations between the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555 and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) produced a tentative contract agreement.

On June 30, the contracts of all five of the unions representing BART workers expired. The outcome has been a little over four months in the making.

At the end of June, three of the largest unions--Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, which includes 1,500 mechanics, custodians, clerical workers and safety inspectors; ATU Local 1555, which includes 900 train operators, station attendants and power workers; and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3993, which includes 200 mid-level managers--refused to accept the cornucopia of concessionary choices BART's board put forward when the contracts expired. Intense negotiations resumed for the next month.

The concessions finally agreed upon by all union negotiators at the end of July included diminishing BART's contribution to workers' pension, furlough days, the institution of 4/10 work weeks (four 10-hour days each week), changes to how shifts are assigned and modification of the grievance procedure, among others.

Yet while the SEIU and AFSCME rank-and-file accepted the terms, ATU workers voted 2-to-1 to reject the offer and maintain the strike authorization vote, with a strike set to begin on August 17. As talks resumed last week, the BART Board declared an impasse and voted 9-0 to unilaterally impose a harsher contract on ATU 1555. These conditions fully eliminated BART contribution to a pension plan and implementation of worker contributions to the Public Employee Retirement System (amounting to a 7 percent pay cut).

BART is alleging that it faces a $310 million shortfall over the next four years and decreasing ridership--something it doesn't provide evidence for. One of the main ways it claims will make up for the shortfall is if labor makes up for its "fair share" of the "sacrifice": $100 million. Another way they claim they will make up money is through raising fares by 6 percent. But labor, despite the board's claims, only makes up 21 percent of expenditures. Costly projects which workers get no say in comprise much more.

ATU Local 1555's President Jess Hunt argued in a June 10 column for the San Francisco Chronicle:

[C]apital expenses make up more than 51 percent of BART's budget, yet they are never on the negotiating table, while workers' health care premiums, pensions and salaries are. Executives are constantly moving money from the operations budget (which funds BART's daily service) to capital--but never back.

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BART MANAGEMENT doesn't want to talk about the costly and unnecessary $522 million Oakland Airport Extension it voted to begin after announcing the budget shortfall. They don't want to talk about $200 million spent on a technological upgrade that was never implemented.

Nor does BART want you to know about the July 23 KTVU Channel 2 News exposé of its fiscal waste. In January, KTVU 2 News used the California Public Records Act to access BART expense records--and received numerous bankers' boxes stuffed with non-itemized receipts. The receipts detail how millions of dollars have been misspent by BART management over the course of the last nine years on high-end restaurant tabs, intercontinental travel and hotel stays.

As KTVU 2 News reported on its Web site:

[A]lthough BART's top management says it has no plans to reform any travel, food, drink or miscellaneous expenses, it does have a list of what it calls important improvements for BART riders it cannot afford. Those include $1.1 million for backing up PG&E power, $1.3 million for parking garage lighting and stairs costing 1.6 million--all well below the $2.4 million spent in the period examined.

Most of all, BART doesn't want anyone to draw the line between the completely unnecessary BART police budget and its current fiscal woes--especially since BART police are responsible for the brutal murder of Oscar Grant III early on New Year's Day. But it's a good question to ask: Why, with a scandal hanging over the head of one if its departments--one that cost a young man his life and will end up costing the agency millions of dollars in damages and legal fees--is BART's board of directors not doing more to curb the BART police program or shut it down altogether as a money-saving measure?

However, because BART's board of directors had a savvy PR plan, workers were successfully vilified in the press and these items have gone largely ignored. Unscientific poll after poll of various news programs and readerships consistently showed a public that was not on the side of the unions. It's a terrible injustice, because all workers should have the right to maintain their standard of living.

No details of the current tentative contract will be available until workers vote on it on August 25. However, on August 11, Lisa Eisler, SEIU Local 1021 BART chapter president, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It's not a great contract. We wish we could have brought back something much, much better for our membership."

This information doesn't bode well for ATU Local 1555 and its rank and file.