SF area transit strike looms hours before deadline

TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press
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Bay Area Rapid Transit travelers wait to board an arriving train Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Bay Area Rapid Transit travelers wait to board an arriving train Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The threat of another gridlock-inducing strike in the San Francisco Bay Area loomed larger Monday as a regional transit agency and two of its largest unions remained without a deal hours before a midnight deadline.

The parties held talks after the unions backed off a threatened strike deadline late Sunday and gave Bay Area Rapid Transit managers a 24-hour reprieve. But by late afternoon it appeared that both sides were remaining firm in their positions.

BART board president Tom Radulovich urged representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 to let its more than 2,300 members vote on the agency’s final offer presented Sunday.

“We’ve been at this for a total of 150 days at this point and we think it’s time for the union leadership to let us know, to let the people in the Bay Area know whether they are going to take an offer to their membership,” Radulovich said.

But SEIU 1021 executive director Pete Castelli said, while the unions remain ready to bargain, they remain unhappy with BART’s last, best and final offer. He urged BART to tweak its offer and warned commuters that the unions may go on strike at midnight Monday if a deal can’t be reached.

He said the parties are somewhere between $6 million to $10 million apart.

“The public needs to understand we were close to a deal and remain close to a deal,” Castelli said. “We apologize to the riders, but we put it squarely at BART’s feet. We feel that have to give them notice tonight that unless something breaks and there’s a Hail Mary, there will be a strike.”

Monday’s down-to-the wire negotiations came after the union backed off a threatened midnight strike deadline Sunday, possibly temporarily preventing the area’s second transit strike in more than three months. About 400,000 riders take BART every weekday on the nation’s fifth-largest commuter rail system.

Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations include salaries and workers’ contributions to their health and pension plans.

“I am so frustrated with the way they’ve been holding the riders hostage,” said BART commuter Toba Villatore, 45, of San Francisco as she headed to work. “I’m tired of staying up until midnight wondering if there’s going to be a strike or not.”

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said Sunday that the “last best and final offer” presented to the unions then was $7 million higher than Friday’s proposal. It includes an annual 3 percent raise over four years and requires workers to contribute 4 percent toward their pension and 9.5 percent toward medical benefits.

Workers from the two unions, which represent more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff, now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, the transit agency said. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions.

Josie Mooney, SEIU’s chief negotiator said, “It doesn’t make any sense to issue a last, best and final offer that they knew in advance that we would not be able to accept.”

Crunican said the unions have two weeks from Sunday to accept the deal before it is taken off the table.

“It is time to bring this to a close,” Crunican said.

BART workers went on strike for nearly five days in July and were about to go again on Friday when a 60-day cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown expired.

However, the parties continued negotiating over the weekend and into Monday, as ridership was light because of strike fears and the Columbus Day holiday.

A pending strike forced San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to cancel a trip to China. He said Monday that “people’s very livelihoods hang in the balance.”

ATU President Antonette Bryant complained Monday that BART’s latest offer is a decrease from an offer presented Friday.

“This 12 percent ends up at maybe 1 percent when you consider all the givebacks they are asking for,” Bryant said. “That is not a raise.”

Castelli said Monday that while the parties had made progress on pay, pension and health care benefits they also were still at odds on issues related to work rules.

 

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