Two BART unions vote to authorize a strike

June 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
On Tuesday night, two BART unions voted to authorize a strike, which means trains could stop running as soon as next Wednesday.

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There are five unions representing nearly 3,000 workers involved in the contract talks. One union voted earlier in the day and at around 10 p.m., the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), representing about 1,000 train operators and station agents, approved and authorized their union to strike.

The majority of commuters ABC7 spoke with Tuesday night were unaware that in one week a system-wide BART strike could bog down the entire Bay Area.

Is carpooling an option? Apparently not for BART rider Hazel Aslan. "No, because I have to drop off my son at school and then drive to the BART station and go to work. So I just can't," she said.

To avoid potential traffic jams, the Metropolitan Transit Commission urged BART's 355,000 daily commuters to carpool or take the ferry in case of a strike.

"But getting to those ferry destinations is going to be a real challenge. Jack London Square maybe, but Alameda is going to receive a lot of folks. It's not so convenient for many of us," said BART rider John Gibbs.

The poor economy is intensifying the negotiations. BART management projects a $250 million budget deficit over the next four years and it's hoping to cut labor costs by $100 million, mostly in pension and benefits. The unions say they laid a smaller cost-cutting proposal on the table. BART is also proposing that its five unions accept a four-year wage freeze.

"There has been some progress the last couple days at the negotiating table. We hope it continues. Our focus is to try to resolve this at the negotiating table," said ATU union president Jesse Hunt.

But after Tuesday's nine-hour negotiation, neither side has budged. BART management says the battle is over benefits and pension that cost BART $116 million a year.

"They pay $82 a month for a very good benefits package, healthcare, a full pension, and the BART tax payer and rider picks up the rest of the cost. So we're asking for the BART worker to pick up more of the cost," said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking down and BART says it will not ask for a 60-day cooling off period if an agreement isn't reached by July 1, 2009. It could be the first BART strike in 12 years.

The approval to authorize a strike is equivalent to the unions drawing their swords, but the real vote to watch will be the one to accept or reject an actual contract proposal. So far, there is no contract proposal on the table and we're seven days away from a potential strike.

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