BART, unions continue bitter negotiations to avoid strike

June 29, 2013 1:28:00 AM PDT
With the Sunday night deadline fast approaching, BART and its unions are continuing negotiations in the hopes of avoiding a strike. Both sides still appear to be far apart, with both sides blaming each other for not compromising.

BART still on track to stop the trains on Monday. There was no face-to-face bargaining on Friday, just a mediator who shuffled between camps. However, the two sides are no closer to a deal than they were on Thursday.

The day started both sides are still emphasizing their intention to avoid a strike on Monday and keep the trains moving. But so far, it seems there's less progress and more tension. BART says it agreed to at least five of the union's proposals. The union says BART simply adjusted proposals and sent them back. Listening to the two sides, you can tell there's definitely a disconnect here.

"We have responded fully to what they proposed yesterday, agreed to as much as we could, and made what we think are reasonable modifications to the rest," said BART spokesperson Rick Rice.

"They have not brought information to the table that we've requested. They have unilaterally decided they are not going to bargain with us on specific issues that are very important to us. Those are not components of negotiating," said ATU 1555 president Antonette Bryant.

There was absolutely no movement on the four main issues: wages, pensions, healthcare and safety. One of the biggest gaps is on wages. The unions want a 5 percent raise for each of three years, but BART is only offering them a one-percent raise each year.

They'll be back at the bargaining table on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The day began with a joint rally of BART and City of Oakland workers. Both are on track for a Monday strike over wages, medical and pension benefits, and workplace safety.

"They're union ideals, and quite frankly, they're American ideals," said Roxanne Sanchez with SEIU. "That's what we're fighting for."

By late afternoon, the fight appeared no closer to being over. The unions say they waited all day for BART to show up.

"We have given them a proposal, 11 p.m. last night, 12 hours later we did not get their proposal, and we get informed that they won't show up at the table until 6:30," said John Arantes with SEIU Local 1021.

"There are less than 72-hours until the end of our contract, midnight on Sunday, and yet we still have not received anything from them today, that's very disappointing," said Antoinette Bryant with ATU Local 1555.

BART, meantime, is also disappointed.

"We've seen no movement in our direction in any meaningful way," BART spokesperson Rick Rice said.

All parties are saying they don't want a strike. And ATU asked Governor Jerry Brown to intervene and keep the trains running if there's no agreement by Sunday night.

But SEIU and BART do not want a cooling off, for different reasons.

"Sixty more days, all it's going to do is give them until one week before the expiration of sixty days and then they will start bargaining again like today, making us wait until 6:30," Arantes said.

"We of course would like to avoid one, but better deal with it now rather than in the fall when people are back at school, fewer vacations, more people riding every day," Rice said.

If a strike is called while trains are already running, ATU promises not to abandon their posts and passengers mid-track.

"If it comes to a point where we feel we do have to go out Monday morning, we will ensure that everyone who is in the system gets where they need to get," Bryant said.

If there is a strike, hundreds of thousands of BART riders will be joining those on the Bay Area's already crowded bridges and freeways. And that'll create big problems for Bay Area businesses and their workers.

Many companies and businesses have been trying to come up with a way to get their workers and goods around the Bay Area in the event of a strike. That strike would cause some major problems, but there are also some who will benefit from it.

Andre Abramov is the owner of the "in water" flower shop in San Francisco. He's concerned that a BART strike will cause so much traffic on the roads and bridges that his flower deliveries could be delayed. He's trying to come up with a plan.

"Maybe do deliveries when there's nobody on the roads which is early in the morning or in the middle of the day or at night perhaps," he said.

Many of BART's 400,000 daily riders will be clogging the roadways if a strike happens. While Abramov is concerned about the problems the strike might cause, Apple Limousine owner Sam Mohared sees an opportunity.

"We're going to be busy we're going to be making money," he said.

Mohared welcomes a strike. He says the last time BART went on strike in 1997, his limousines were all booked by people who still wouldn't get into their own cars to commute.

Getting to work is going to be a potential nightmare for the more than 21,000 people who work for UCSF, the city's secnd largest employer.

An excerpt from a memo UCSF issued Wednesday to its workers and managers reads, "UCSF employees are encouraged to explore carpooling, vanpooling and telecommuting from home if operationally feasible, and/or working with their supervisors to arrange flexible work schedules temporarily."

Kaiser operates more than eight hospitals in the Bay Area. They are now trying to come up with a plan to make sure their employees get to work and that medical services do not suffer.

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