Details of BART, ATU deal emerge

August 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A BART strike has been averted for now, while union members prepare to vote on a new deal. Thousands of commuters were held in limbo until union members and BART management finally reached a compromise.

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Details on the specifics of the compromise have begun to surface.

The Contra Costa times reports that BART walked away from the bargaining table with 11 fewer employees that will be paid to do union business. The report said it will now take 15 years for workers to qualify for medical benefits and retirement. It said that the union saved the floating holidays it was going to lose and added that members will now get what is being called a "conditional pay raise" from medical retirement savings.

These are all tentative details which still need to be ratified by the ATU's full membership. There are still few details on exactly how the settlement was reached.

BART and Amalgamated Transit Union leaders concede that in trying to broker a settlement that would avoid a strike, they had to take into account the more than 300,000 commuters it would have stranded, and the other two unions whose members said they would not cross the ATU's picket lines.

The SEIU's members comprise the majority of BART workers. While the SEIU did not favor a strike, they also did not say they brought any pressure to bear on the ATU to settle.

SEIU President John Maher said the economy gave BART some bargaining power.

"Now, let me make it clear that I'm sure that on their side of the table they knew that they could get things that under normal conditions they probably wouldn't get," he told reporters.

Labor expert Harley Shaiken at UC Berkeley says political pressure and public opinion were also part of the final settlement being reached by both sides.

"This isn't a private company. It is a public entity and has broad repercussions. So, it isn't simply the BART board and a union at the bargaining table. It is the broader community," he told ABC7.

Neither union officials nor BART would talk about how the deal was brokered, or what was won or lost. But, they have said that both sides had to bend on work rules and health insurance co-pay.

"Our members knew that sacrifices were going to be involved in this. We recognized that throughout the process. But, what we couldn't do was accept an unfair burden being placed upon our members," said Jesse Hunt, president of the 850-member ATU.

Apparently, the agreement softened that burden to the union's satisfaction. Shaiken says the ATU used a strike as a bargaining tool, but say what they would have gained with a strike is not clear.

"If they did go on strike, what might the outcome be? Would BART reopen the agreement after two unions had ratified it? The context was pretty tough going into this," he said.

The union's vote on the tentative agreement will take place on Tuesday, August 25th. The union will be voting from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on whether or not to ratify the contract.

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