Governor to seek cooling off period if no deal reached

by Mihir Zaveri and Terence Chea; AP National Writer Martha Mendoza and reporter Terry Collins, contributors
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Officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department (r) stands outside a BART train while passengers board in San Francisco.

Officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department (r) stands outside a BART train while passengers board in San Francisco. (AP image)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Contentious negotiations are scheduled to resume Saturday, one day after Gov. Jerry Brown said he will seek a court-ordered, two-month cooling-off period if a contract dispute threatens to stall commuter trains in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Brown’s announcement on Friday came as union leaders warned commuters that they were prepared to strike and shut down one of the nation’s largest rail systems for the second time this summer if they don’t reach an agreement on a new contract.

Despite no progress on Friday, Bay Area Rapid Transit management and members from its two largest unions said that they were committed to talk all weekend long.

Meanwhile, San Francisco Superior Court has agreed to open its Civic Center courthouse on Sunday if necessary to hold a hearing on the possible request by Brown for an injunction.

“I urge all parties to think of the public and resolve this matter without delay, but if there’s no resolution by Sunday, I will seek a 60-day cooling-off period,” Brown said in a statement.

BART union leaders were angered Friday with the governor’s proposal believing it reduces the urgency to negotiate.

“It would’ve been better if both parties had felt the kind of pressure necessary to arrive at a deal,” said Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021. “We’re hoping in spite of both parties knowing the governor will seek this injunction that both parties continue to be motivated to achieve an agreement so that there is no threat of a strike in October.”

Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555, added “our position is we want a deal. The ability to make a deal is on the table. Let’s get it done. There’s no need to drag this out and hold the public hostage. There’s no need to hold our workers’ hostage.”

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said, “It doesn’t change anything that is taking place this weekend. Everyone is working tirelessly to get to a deal by Sunday night regardless of what the governor just announced.”

The parties still remain tens of millions of dollars apart on wages, pensions and health care benefits. Negotiations began four months ago, and the contract expired at the end of June.

BART said workers from the two unions now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers’ pay nothing toward their pensions and pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.

Previously, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce had complained that elected officials weren’t doing enough to resolve the labor dispute and stop workers from striking. The business group called for state legislation to prevent future BART strikes.

On Thursday, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer got in the mix, sending a letter to BART managers and union leaders urging them to “resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service.”

On Sunday, Brown’s decision to empanel a board of inquiry prevented a strike from beginning last Monday. That panel’s conclusion, released Friday, was that a strike would cause significant harm to the public’s health, safety and welfare.

The National Labor Relations Act has emergency procedures that might allow it to block strikes if those stoppages will endanger a community, according to court records filed by state officials.

The labor dispute previously resulted in a 4 1/2-day strike in early July that snarled traffic on roadways and left commuters facing long lines for buses and ferries.

BART is the nation’s fifth largest rail system, carrying an estimated 400,000 daily riders from the farthest reaches of San Francisco’s densely populated eastern suburbs across the Bay through the city to the International Airport.

The region now waits as the clock ticks to see if a deal can be struck by midnight Sunday.

“We’re going to first try to get with management and see how the process goes,” said Leah Berlanga, an SEIU chief negotiator.

“We are prepared to compromise, but we need to see some movement on their part,” Trost said.

If a deal can’t be reached, BART managers would support a cooling-off period so trains can keep running, Trost said,

So far, the agency has not made any plans to provide alternative transportation if there is a strike next week.

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