Union describes BART talks as 'contentious'

July 31, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
We're just four days away from a possible BART strike. The deadline for an agreement is midnight Sunday. The encouraging news is that both sides are still meeting and debating right now.

BART and its unions are meeting at Caltrans headquarters in Oakland because both sides agreed it's a good space for them to meet. On Wednesday morning both BART management and the unions said they're still far apart and we have yet to get an update from them.

One of the unions in the BART talks described their meetings with management as contentious.

"We're trying to get it done," one union member said. "But it's up to the management."

On Wednesday morning, management didn't sit at the bargaining table until 11 a.m. That's because the mediator told them to make some adjustments to their latest proposal.

"We've been running the numbers and we made sure we made adjustments to the proposals so that everyone sees net increases," BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said.

But the two unions, the SEIU and the Amalgamated Transit Union, are holding out for a better offer.

"We did and we have and it's a fact that BART needs to take our request seriously and also answer to them," SEIU Vice President Saul Almanza said.

The two unions say BART has millions in its operating budget. That's something the transit agency acknowledges because ridership is up.

"But that doesn't mean we have a surplus overall," BART spokesperson Jim Allison said. "We actually have a deficit in terms of what we need to pay to buy new train cars, to replace the train control system, to repair the equipment that we already have, and to build a new maintenance complex for the Silicon Valley extension that we're building."

With the Sunday night deadline approaching, commuters are getting worried a deal may not be reached.

"I have to wake up a little bit earlier," one BART rider said. "And then everything I do has to be about two to three hours ahead."

Another BART commuter added, "I would love for BART to be operating on Monday. It would make getting to work a lot easier."

If there is a strike the Metropolitan Transit Commission says there will be a lot more people taking alternative means of transportation, more so than what we saw in July during the first strike, because a lot more people are back to work.

Wednesday night, BART chief negotiator Thomas Hock refused to answer any of the media's questions on the progress of the talks.

"Mr. Hock continues not to want to not engage in conversation about what our different interests are and how we can resolve those differences," said SEIU chief negotiator Josie Mooney.

The union says there has been no significant movement on wedges, pension and health care. BART said its current offer would give workers slightly more money, but the unions say its lowest-paid workers will suffer over the four-year contract.

"The system service workers and the utility workers in our union, who start out at $42,000 a year will still be $1,950 behind," said Mooney.

Meanwhile, other transportation agencies, such as the ferries, are preparing to add more routes if there is a BART strike takes place on Monday.

A 72-hour strike notice from the unions to BART and the public could come on Thursday.

ABC7 News reporter Alan Wang contributed to this report.


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