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BART talks continue, both sides tightlipped

A day after the 60-day cooling off period ended, BART and its unions are still negotiating but can?t say much publicly.
October 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Late Friday night there was word BART management was going to offer a new proposal for the unions to consider, but then there was no word if it was ever given. That's because the mediator is enforcing a gag rule. The transit agency and its unions are continuing to negotiate and will resume on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican and some East Bay politicians joined the talks Friday.

Running BART trains were a welcome sight for thousands of Bay Area commuters Friday. But though the trains are running now, there's a new deadline that could lead to a strike. Now, all eyes are on Monday. If they can't reach a deal by then, prepare to scramble to get to work.

The two sides remain in talks, working toward that Sunday midnight deadline. BART's general manager joined the talks Friday, as did some East Bay politicians who are eager to avert a strike.

To put it bluntly, there's been no hint of progress. Though they are still talking, which everyone always says is better than not talking.

BART's team is encamped at the Caltrans building on the 13th floor. The union team is staked out on the 15th floor. We wondered, if when they meet face-to-face, they meet on the 14th floor. Apparently not, but metaphorically speaking that's where they need to be, in the middle.

The first order of business Friday was to recover from Thursday night's dispute. The BART negotiators say they were prepared to offer a new proposal, but the unions told them not to present it yet. Union leaders said they believed it was the last, best, and final offer, and still had proposals on the table that needed to be negotiated.

"You can't shove this down our throat without talking to us about it," ATU President Antonette Bryant said. "We wanted to talk about it and work on things that we still have that were open and they weren't open to do that. So we'll give you this and we'll listen, but that's all we're going to do. We're not changing what it is. So we never did see it because that's unreasonable, that's not how you bargain."

"Last, best, and final offer is a legal term," BART spokesperson Jim Allison said. "And so when we get to that it will be clear when we're there." When asked to confirm that they're not there yet, he said, "Correct."

BART General Manager Grace Crunican was back at the bargaining table Friday, after making her first appearance there Thursday. BART says it has not been appropriate for her to come, until now.

Whatever the reason behind her participation, it satisfies a long-standing union demand.

"Not getting people overly hopeful, but the elements are here today between the two parties, all the high-ranking officials, to get an agreement," SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli said. "The mix is here to get an agreement today, if it can be achieved."

Part of that mix, elected officials like Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

"Like the BART board members, we represent people," Quirk said. "Like the general manager, we want people to get there on time. Like the unions we want them to have a fair settlement and be happy and take care of their families."

Quirk says he's not a decision maker, and is just here to listen. When asked if there's a scenario by which he might pick a side, the assemblyman quickly said, "I have to get upstairs."

"We take sides for fairness and we know that to get to yes, everybody has to get past their comfort zones," said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

Thomas Hock, BART's chief negotiator, thinks the politician's participation just slows things down.

"Coming over, I don't think really adds anything at all, just adds to theater," he said.

BART had a contingency plan in place for Friday, but cancelled the buses when the unions agreed to a contract extension through the weekend. A spokesperson for the transit agency says they will be ready Monday just in case a strike does happen. But that is very limited bus service to nine East Bay stations with capacity for about 6,000 people.

Both sides say that the talks are moving forward and they're both hoping to avoid a strike. They will return on Saturday to work on a deal.

BART riders speak out about strike threat

BART riders are able to get to where they need to go to for now, but Monday may be another story.

People approached Friday as one of those good news, bad news situations. We saw people who were smiling, but they also had a furrowed brow.

Even though the BART trains were running Friday, we found that the whole situation still created a loss in productivity.

"Yeah, I didn't go to sleep hardly cause I was trying to wait for the news to see exactly what's gonna happen to BART," Hayward resident Olivia Rodgers said. "So by the time I did fall asleep it was 2 a.m., so I'm late for work of course."

Most of the people catching trains Friday told us they can't work from home, and they weren't sure how they were going to get to work without BART.

"I was very relived, very relieved," one rider said. "I think it's kinda ridiculous that they can strike, considering we all depend on them."

Orinda City Councilmember Steve Glazer agrees. He asked riders Friday to sign a petition supporting the idea of a ban on transit worker strikes.

"I'm supportive of the collective bargaining process of management and labor trying to work it out," he said. "But if they can't work it out, the consequences should not have to fall on the riders."

We heard a lot of support for this idea, but also heard some concern about taking this tool away from labor unions.

"They deserve it, so they need to have their say," San Francisco resident Mahmoud Abdelkader said. "So, I understand where they're coming from."

But politics and big picture solutions aside, riders are united right now in one thing -- worrying about next week. BART workers have given notice that they may walk off the job on Monday.

"Monday's a holiday, so don't have to worry about that," Abdelkader said. "But, um, Tuesday, I'm very worried about Tuesday."

Monday is Columbus Day, so if they strike then, it may not hurt quite as bad. It would be Tuesday that would be painful.

But the hope is that we won't even get there and they'll reach an agreement over the weekend.

Transit agencies prepare for potential strike

If there is a strike, BART managers have been training to run some trains. And the district will charter 200 buses.

Service will run from nine East Bay BART stations and downtown San Francisco.

You can catch a bus between 5 and 8 a.m. at the following stations -- El Cerrito del Norte, Concord, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, West Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Dublin-Pleasanton, and Fremont. Evening service at those stations will be from 3 to 7 p.m. You have to get a roundtrip ticket in the morning if you want to catch the evening bus.

As for AC Transit, it will have additional and longer buses on its local and transbay lines. And bus stops located inside BART stations will be moved outside BART property lines.

The San Francisco Bay Ferry service is planning to add four ferries.

On a regular day they transport about 6,000 passengers. They saw that number jump to 19,000 during the last BART strike in July.

(ABC7 News reporters Heather Ishimaru, Matt Keller, and Amy Hollyfield contributed to this report)

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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