BART, union leaders resume talks

July 20, 2009 4:49:09 PM PDT
Negotiators for BART management and its 2,800-plus union workers resumed face-to-face talks at 3 p.m. today following an 11-day break during which the transit agency's two largest unions voted against management's contract offer by overwhelming margins.

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BART spokesman Linton Johnson and Carlos Rivera of Local 1021 of Service Employees International Union, the transit agency's largest union, both said they don't yet have any information on how the talks are going.

Johnson and Rivera said management and union negotiators spent this morning and early afternoon meeting with state mediators and working out a bargaining schedule going forward.

Johnson said management wants to meet every day, including over the weekend. Rivera said he doesn't yet have information about the schedule.

State mediators, who joined the talks on June 26, won't be available on Tuesday but management wants to meet anyway, Johnson said.

Contract talks, which began on April 1, were halted shortly before midnight on July 9, when the contract for BART's unions expired.

Leaders of the SEIU Local 1021, which represents about 1,400 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers, said they didn't like management's offer but wanted to give their members a chance to vote on it.

ATU Local 1555 President Jesse Hunt said about three-quarters of his members participated in a vote last Tuesday and all of those who participated cast votes against management's proposed four-year contract.

SEIU Local 1021 officials said their members voted against the proposal on Thursday by a margin of 98.5 percent to 1.5 percent, with about 70 percent of their members participating.

Members of Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 200 middle managers, and members of two small unions that represent BART police officers and managers haven't yet voted on management's offer.

Johnson said the votes against the contract offer didn't surprise management because union leaders didn't endorse it.

He said, "The unions abruptly left the bargaining table without flushing out our proposal and basically wasted a week and a half knowing what the outcome would be."

Members of ATU Local 1555, SEIU Local 1021 and AFSCME Local 3993 all voted by large margins last month to approve a strike if a settlement isn't reached on a new contract. However, union leaders haven't yet called for a strike and say they want to continue negotiations with management.

Johnson said management is committed to achieving $100 million in labor cost savings in order to cope with its large budget deficit, which is estimated to be $310 million over four years.

Management's proposal calls for a wage freeze for the first three years of the contract and only a small 0.75 percent increase in the fourth year.

It also calls for employees to pay more of the cost of their medical and retirement benefits and for work-rule changes aimed at making employees more efficient.

Rivera said "a huge deal" for union members is a proposal by management that he said would weaken workplace grievance procedures for employees.

He said current procedures "protect our members and the work they do for the public."

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