BART strike temporarily on hold

July 10, 2009 9:50:34 AM PDT
The chief negotiator for the SEIU told ABC7 that they have a proposal in hand that they need to take to their union members to vote on. The earliest they could get a vote going might be as late as Monday.

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Therefore, it looks like for the short-term -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- BART will be running as usual and that sometime next week, things may come to a head as another vote takes place on the new proposal.

Leaders of BART's two biggest unions said late Thursday night that they will be taking BART management's latest offer to their members for a vote next week.

Larry Gerber, the chief negotiator for the BART chapter of Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1,400 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, said he thinks the offer is "not very good," but he wants his union members to have the chance to vote on it.

Gerber said if his union's members reject the offer, the union will then ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a 60-day cooling off period.

Jesse Hunt, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers, said he will also be presenting management's offer to his members for a vote.

Union leaders said they have also provided their own offer to BART management, which management was reviewing late Thursday night.

Both sides went 99 days into the negotiating process and literally into the 11th hour. While the midnight deadline passed, it does put an end to a rule that the unions must provide a 72-hour notice if they're going to strike. However, on Thursday afternoon the unions promised to give reasonable notice.

"We haven't decided what reasonable notice is. It'll be something that's reasonable. It won't be 15 minutes notice. It'll be something to give the ridership and the public a chance to prepare," said Gerber, who came out of retirement for his ninth BART negotiation.

"Reasonable is more than an hour's notice, more than a day's notice I would hope," said Lisa Isler, the SEIU Local 1021 president. "We've got 1,500 people ready to mobilize if we don't get this worked out."

BART management said they would not lock out workers if an agreement was not reached. They said they hoped workers would keep on working even without a contract.

"If they go on strike there will not be train operators, there will not be any trains, which is why we're asking employees to come to work. They don't have to work with a contract. We want them to come to work. It benefits the Bay Area and clearly we can't afford to have folks walking off the job," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

BART said they would open parking lots to carpoolers if a strike ensues and trains shut down. Management said earlier they were far short of hitting the $100 million in concessions they asked from the unions to balance their budget in a tough economy with declining ridership. The unions said they've made many concessions both in workplace rules and financially, but that they were not ruling out a strike.

State and local transportation agencies are still making plans in the event of a strike.

Link: List of transit alternatives in the event of a BART strike

BART riders are still holding their breath for what might happen next week.

"I've got several friends that I plan to commute with back to San Francisco if necessary," said Michael Hill, a BART rider.

"It would really disrupt and be very inconvenient and I think in the current economy, it doesn't put a good flavor on either management or labor," said Karen Koshy, a BART rider.

BART also said that its four-year, $250 million deficit has grown already by an additional $60 million and SEIU negotiator Gerber said the unions were made aware of that. The unions also said that BART has been giving them evidence of the deficit and that the unions appreciate that the deficit is real. This is definitely a change in tone from the unions this week as compared with last.

Caltrans announced on Thursday, if there's a strike, the I-80 West Grand Avenue onramp to the Bay Bridge will be converted into a carpool/FasTrack lane only in the morning and evening commutes.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

Link: List of transit alternatives in the event of a BART strike

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