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BART, labor deadlocked; Sunday strike possible

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  • 6/29 Oakland Tribune
    Published Friday, June 29, 2001, in the Oakland Tribune Strike may shut BART down on Sunday Union, transit officials deadlocked on wages By Sean Holstege Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2001
      Published Friday, June 29, 2001, in the Oakland Tribune

      Strike may shut BART down on Sunday
      Union, transit officials deadlocked on wages

      By Sean Holstege
      Staff Writer

      OAKLAND -- The possibility of a systemwide BART strike on Sunday
      suddenly became real Thursday after BART officials announced that
      they would not seek the usual 60-day cooling-off period if the unions
      agreed to do the same.

      Union agents said they would respond by 10 a.m. today , but all day
      Thursday they demanded to make Saturday's deadline real. Their
      initial reaction was talk of a strike.

      "If all the district wants to do is talk about process for the next
      three days, I don't see how we can avoid it," said George Popyack, a
      bargaining representative for the American Federation of State,
      Municipal and County Employees Local 3393.

      BART's offer came as pressure mounted all day Thursday from both
      sides of a deadlocked bargaining table, and outsiders, to settle BART
      labor talks by midnight on Saturday.

      Until yesterday, all sides had assumed that talks would be headed for
      a governor-declared 60-day "cooling-off" period, as BART labor talks
      had at each of the last four attempts.

      The governor can only take such an action, designed as an emergency
      measure to avert a strike, at the request of BART or its labor
      unions. Governor Davis would not intervene without a request,
      spokeswoman Hilary McLean said.

      A strike would disrupt the commutes of 355,000 riders who use the 95-
      mile transit system every weekday.

      Earlier in the day, during a noisy meeting in the BART boardroom,
      officials from three unions, representing 2,800 employees, demanded a
      settlement by the Saturday deadline and threatened an immediate
      strike if it did not happen.

      Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Robert Smith said the
      chance of a strike was growing, not receding.

      Representatives of the Service Employees International Union Local
      790 were also pessimistic about progress at the table.

      By 5 p.m. labor officials and BART General Manager Tom Margro said
      little progress had been made during Thursday's bargaining sessions.

      The stage is now set for intense negotiations over the next two days,
      to avoid a rerun of events in 1997. Then, after an unproductive
      cooling-off period, talks were concluded only after a six-day strike
      that crippled the region's mobility.

      A major step toward another walkout came Wednesday, when labor
      councils for Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties all
      unanimously gave BART workers approval to shut down the system.

      During Thursday's board meeting, BART Director Joel Keller proposed a
      mutually accepted 30-day extension to continue talks without a
      cooling off period.

      "People don't seem to think that June 30 is the real deadline, but
      that the real deadline is 60 days later," Keller, an AFSCME member,
      said. "I'd like to avoid that at all costs."

      His idea was greeted with chants of "No. No. No."

      However, some labor negotiators said they were open to extending
      talks day-by-day if real progress were made, an agreement were near
      and BART promised not to seek intervention by the governor.

      BART Spokesman Mike Healy said that daily extensions settled a 1985
      contract stalemate.

      Meanwhile, 17 Bay Area state lawmakers weighed in this week with a
      letter to BART directors urging a swift conclusion to talks.

      "It frankly strains credibility to believe you can do so well in
      performance and capital development, yet not fairly compensate those
      whose labor make it all possible," stated a letter by Sen. Don
      Perata, D-Oakland.

      BART and its unions are stalled largely on wages, at a time of record-
      breaking ridership and self-sufficiency, but growing uncertainty.

      BART has budgeted 3 percent wage increases, and noted the district
      faces a $1 billion seismic repair bill, a 65 percent increase in
      electricity costs and expensive maintenance needs.

      Unions had originally sought closer to 30 percent over three years.

      Thursday, union agents complained that the transit agency is also
      trying to whittle their strength and weaken protections against
      discipline. They also complained that the agency is not discussing
      the terms.

      District manager Margro said, "There needs to be movement from
      everybody." He said the district is riddled with absenteeism from
      drivers and station agents. He also said the unions are still
      demanding three times the amount they agreed to in 1997. Unions have
      said BART's offer does not keep pace with inflation.

      Alameda ferry operators were on standby to begin extra "BART strike"
      service on Sunday.
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