Bay Area braces for BART strike, negotiations continue

Union leaders head into a meeting in advance of potential BART strike.
August 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
BART talks continued Friday with unions saying they're optimistic a settlement can be reached, despite having given 72-hour strike notice Thursday. Meanwhile, the transit agency's chief negotiator, Tom Hock says union fears and accusations that he's a union buster are unfounded.

"As far as I know I've never busted a union anywhere and if they've got something that says I have I'd like to know," he said.

Hock says in 400 of these types of negotiations, all have settled, but none before the deadline. And breaking the union is not his intent.

"That's never the intent regardless. The intent is always to reach a settlement. I mean, I've never gone into a negotiations anywhere in the United States, no matter who I represented, or the client didn't want a settlement. And, you have to remember too, I represent a client, these aren't my ideas. You know, I'm there representing what BART is after," he said.

The unions say from the very beginning there's been little progress on the contentious and challenging issues of wages, benefits and safety.

"We've had some difficulty at the general table. The supplemental table has actually gone fairly well. So we've made a lot of progress there," said SEIU 1021 Professional Chapter's Des Patten.

"The generals have been going on off and on the entire time. Everything goes on not necessarily at the same time but all goes on," said Hock.

Negotiations could be going on around the clock between now and Sunday night. Some negotiators are prepared to stay overnight, if necessary.

"I've got bags packed in my car. I mean, I'm just being prepared for whatever it takes," said SEIU 1021's Saul Almanza.

BART management insists if a strike does happen; there are no plans to run trains with replacement operators.

Union leaders call for action from BART board

Union leaders want BART board members to get more involved in the negotiations. They made that plea Friday at a special meeting of the board in Oakland. The board of directors got an earful from frustrated commuters and union representatives who are pushing for an agreement to avoid the potential strike.

"We do not want a disruption of service and we hope you don't as well," said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant.

Commuters are caught in the middle. A looming deadline means BART is closer to putting the brakes on service, leaving thousands without a way to get around.

"I just hope they get settled soon. Because, I also, I'm starting a new job, like next week. I need the BART really badly," said Chelsea Hall of Berkeley.

"It's like I work in the city and it's like, I still got to go to work. But you have to, like, go like two hours ahead of time," said Alicia Brown of Berkeley.

The unions representing the majority of BART workers issued a notice of intent to strike Sunday at midnight.

After listening to frustrated commuters, the board of directors held a closed door session to talk about the looming crisis. It was the first time all board members have met as a group since June.

"The board's together and I'm excited to report that we all want to get this done this weekend," said BART Board President Tom Radulovich.

Union leaders have accused board members of not doing enough to get a deal done.

"We haven't been able to share, in a group setting, our experience to see if we can make this thing work," said BART Director James Fang.

The closed door session gave the full board of directors an opportunity to provide direction to management and its negotiators on how to move forward.

Union representatives remain skeptical.

"Our safety issues have yet to be addressed. There are other issues that are extremely important to us that have yet to be addressed," said Bryant.

With the deadline looming, both sides are under pressure to make a deal.

Negative impacts of BART strike

A new poll from the Bay Area Council suggests the public is largely opposed to a strike. The public policy group found that 70-percent of those surveyed oppose a strike. Only 30 percent would support it.

Both business owners and people who rely on BART to get to work are understandably very worried about what a BART strike come Monday would mean for their bottom line.

"We're losing money, we're losing time, people can be losing their jobs," said Vanessa Oliver, a BART commuter.

Oliver almost lost her job when BART went on strike in July. She commutes into San Francisco from the East Bay. The single mom works at a tech company and says her employer isn't very lenient when it comes to attendance and family.

"The last BART strike it was a requirement to be here because of the deadlines we had to meet. So it was a huge inconvenience, especially since my son's school is in Hayward, so I had to find a way to get him to school and then try to get to work on time," said Oliver.

After work when she couldn't pick up her son, Tristan, on time she paid the price.

"It ended up costing me almost $120 just for the late fee of picking him up," said Oliver.

Those bills add up for commuters and the economy. The Bay Area Council, representing business owners estimates the economic impact.

"A BART strike costs us about $73 million a day in lost economic productivity. So that's people sitting in traffic, having to find other ways to get to work or to get to where they're going," said Bay Area Council Spokesperson Rufus Jeffris.

That doesn't include the trickledown effect. At Harrington's Bar and Grille bartender Joanne Campbell says the business depends on people being able to get to work.

"A lot of our customers will come in for lunch, we have a busy lunch crowd and if they're not making it to work and they're telecommunicating from home, then we don't have lunch business really," said Campbell.

Fewer customers means fewer dollars.

"Besides the business staying open and the business doing well, we all work for a living and need the customers. It definitely affects everybody where it hurts," said Campbell.

Campbell, like so many others, hopes BART and its unions can come to agreement without striking.

Stay with ABC7NEWS.COM for updates on the looming BART strike and information on how to get around if the trains stop running. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ and download our news app for the latest news whenever and wherever you want.


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