SF Bay Area transit agency, unions still talking

AP News
Posted: Oct 10, 2013 10:45 PM

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A San Francisco Bay Area transit agency and two of its unions were back at the bargaining table Thursday trying to work out a new contract agreement and avoid a second strike in less than three months.

With a state-mandated, 60-day cooling-off period prohibiting a strike set to expire at midnight, Bay Area Rapid Transit leaders said in a statement that, with a just a few hours remaining, negotiators remained at the table working to avert a strike.

The statement said union leaders haven't discounted the possibility of a Friday strike, but management hopes that even if midnight comes without a deal, the talks will continue and a strike delayed.

"We are prepared and willing to meet all weekend and as long as it takes," the 7 p.m. statement said.

BART's chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, said he planned to present a new offer sometime Thursday to leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021. He would not disclose specifics.

"We're prepared to put something out there that hopefully gives them something to look at to take back to their membership to vote," he said.

But Chris Finn of the ATU said that despite several hours of negotiations, the unions have seen nothing that hasn't been presented in previous days.

"We haven't seen that. They haven't reached that point yet," Finn said. "We're still hoping to see some movement."

If the clock strikes midnight with no agreement, workers could walk off the job, stranding an estimated 400,000 rail commuters. Last July, BART workers struck for 4 1/2 days, leading to jammed bridges and roadways, and crowded buses throughout the Bay Area before Gov. Jerry Brown mandated the cooling-off period.

On Wednesday, union leaders thought they had a deal with BART management but said the proposal presented late Tuesday was rescinded.

"We thought we were really close and they totally yanked it off the table," ATU President Antonette Bryant said. "We gave them a counteroffer, and the next day they said, 'Oh, you misunderstood what we proposed.' We said, 'No we didn't.'"

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Hock said BART never made a formal offer and blamed a mediator for the confusion.

"The mediator misunderstood and miscommunicated what had been talked about because we had never put that offer out there in any way, shape or form," Hock said.

The two sides have reached agreement on pension contributions but are still at odds over compensation, health care and safety.

The unions want a raise of nearly 12 percent over three years while BART has proposed a 10 percent increase over four years. BART said workers from the two unions now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.

State transportation officials released a statement late Thursday saying they'll expand the hours of high-occupancy vehicle lanes and make similar moves Friday should a strike come.