Growing possibility of a BART strike

July 16, 2009 7:19:16 PM PDT
BART's largest union is getting ready to count votes for and against the current contract offer. No one expects anything but a resounding rejection of that offer, with both sides planning to get back to negotiations next week.

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SEIU members were urged to reject BART's contract offer. Leadership says they believe there are still ways to reach BART's cost-savings goal with less impact on the workers.

"I voted no, basically because BART is not listening to what we're trying to tell them," said SEIU member Gary Irvin.

In addition to casting ballots, SEIU members were also signing up for strike picket duty, just in case there is no progress after they are back at the negotiating table with BART next week.

"They want everyone to look at us like we want a strike, but that's our last option," said Irvin. "We just want to keep working, keep the tracks safe, keep all the customers safe, and then at the same time, get a living so we can feed our families."

The BART board heard directly from union leaders at a special meeting Thursday morning. The unions hoped to clear up what they say is possible miscommunication about their proposal to change the eligibility period for getting lifetime medical benefits from five to 15 years. It is a change they say will help give BART what it wants in long-term, systemic changes and cost savings.

BART has vigorously asserted the unions' idea is not possible under current state law, but SEIU's chief negotiator, Larry Gerber, says BART's position appeared to soften a bit today.

"I think there's general agreement that this will save hundreds of millions of dollars. If you wanted to call it three-quarters of a billion, you could," said Gerber.

BART says the unions walked away from negotiations last week before the medical benefits idea was fully explored.

"Hopefully we can get back to the negotiating table and completely flush out this proposal," said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson.

CalPERS says a change in eligibility does require legislation, but there is no law that prevents changing the rate of contribution between employer and employee to cover the premium, as long as current and retired workers are treated the same.

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