Rhetoric from unions to BART management heats up

The Friday night rush hour turned into several hours of traffic gridlock getting out of San Francisco.
October 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
BART workers are on strike for the second time since July, scrambling the morning commute for hundreds of thousands of workers who were up before dawn to clog highways, swarm buses and shiver on ferry decks as they found alternative ways to the office.

Less than a day after union leaders announced a strike, more than 100 workers and supporters gathered Friday at a noontime rally at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland to protest what they say are unfair labor practices by the agency's management.

Dozens of BART workers wore purple Service Employees International Union Local 1021 T-shirts or shirts representing Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and toted signs with messages such as "On Strike" and "Replace the BART Board."

"What does solidarity look like? This is what solidarity looks like!" yelled SEIU negotiator Roxanne Sanchez.

With the second strike in four months, the rhetoric from BART unions directed at management has reached a new level.

"The general manager is saying it's about fax machines, they're saying it's about pay stubs," Sanchez said. "That is not on the table. That's what they're trying to do to continue to characterize this work force and villanize this work force as uncooperative."

On Friday afternoon, union leaders said they had sent a letter to BART General Manager Grace Crunican and the BART Board of Directors outlining a plan that they said would allow the strike to end by 10 p.m. Friday if BART management agreed to terms outlined in the current contract.

The strike came just hours after lengthy talks between BART and its management broke down. Both sides said they were close on some key economic issues but far apart still on work rules.

"If only the public knew how long the list of these work rules are," BART board member Zackary Mallett said.

He told ABC7 News the work rules the district wants to revise are intertwined with the economics because they cost the system tens of millions of dollars per year in wasted productivity.

"Because of break rules, our train operators, a vast amount of their time is spent on breaks, not actually operating," Mallett said.

"The district is making the stories up about pay stubs and fax machines," SEIU leader John Cervantes said.

The union leader told us the work rules go directly to their concerns about safety, something the workers believe BART is trying to diminish to save money.

"The district wants to be able to cut corners, not provide safety for the workers, not provide training for the workers," Cervantes said. "And we will not allow that. They need to talk to us, talk to the workers, about what they need to do to do the job."

Late Friday morning, BART issued a statement from General Manager Grace Crunican. She said, "The issues of dispute in the breakdown between management and our unions are the same now as they have been during the last six months no agreement on wages and critical work rules that drive daily scheduling, work assignments, use of technology and the ability of BART to adopt industry best practices."

She went on to say, "The BART Board has offered a strong wage package which includes a 12% wage increase, but the work rule concessions are essential. Using computers instead of manually recording and transmitting information is essential in the technology age. Managers should not have to reach mutual agreement with unions on every day to day operational change that is a part of a past practice. This contract component costs tens of millions of dollars each year and guarantees paralysis."

No talks took place Friday, but BART management says its negotiating teams are open to returning the bargaining table. They say the work rules being proposed are used in every other transportation system across the U.S. and are needed to modernize the system and give management flexibility with their employees.

"We want to be in charge of our scheduling, in charge of our overtime and right now we're not," BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said. "The unions have taken over that part because once it happened once, that set the standard moving forward."

BART management says some trains are running to keep rust off the rails and also deliver some managers and BART police to their strike assignments.

BART strike triggers commuter chaos in Bay Area

Thousands of commuters turned to cars, buses, and ferries to get around on Friday.

Once again, carpooling is being strongly encouraged during the strike. Carpool lane hours on Interstates 80, 880, 680, and other Bay Area roadways will be extended from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. The CHP says all available officers will be out in force to make the commute is as smooth as possible.

East Bay commuters got to try out BART's backup plan Friday morning, trading the trains for limited service on buses.

BART had to reshuffle some buses when they realized the demand would be so high in Walnut Creek and in Fremont. But they do think they accommodated everyone who wanted a bus ride.

There was no need to run for a bus Friday morning at the Walnut Creek BART station. As soon as one filled up, an empty one was ready to go. But people still seemed rushed and upset on this first day of the BART strike.

"I am very frustrated, very frustrated with this," Walnut Creek resident Nidhi Sinha said. "It's like every single day and I just stopped checking the news because I am very frustrated."

"I feel nervous," Concord resident Jeffrey He added. "I don't know how to go and how long it will take."

BART provided buses to shuttle people from the East Bay into the city and will bring them home Friday night. The Walnut Creek station was busy. BART managers had to call for more buses to come here than originally planned. But at 7:20 a.m., one bus sat empty, waiting for more people to show up.

"It was a little bit less of a madhouse than I was expecting I think because it's a Friday and it was such a late notice I think people may have said I am staying home," BART manager Bob Mitroff said.

"It's actually not that bad," Walnut Creek resident Lindsey Mirkovich said. "It was way worse in July when the BART strike first started. But this isn't too bad."

That was also the sentiment from those who chose to take AC Transit buses.

"Last time, I mean, the line was around the corner and you waited 45 minutes to an hour, at least, and it was kinda chaotic because no one knew what to do," BART rider Crystal Mascon said.

Even though the morning went rather smoothly, these commuters know there could still be trouble ahead.

"I'm a little concerned about this afternoon I think it's gonna be a lot of traffic," Walnut Creek resident Princess McKinley said. "But hopefully I can get on the bus and get back home."

Another option for BART riders was the San Francisco Bay Ferry. Commuters leaving from the ferry landing started lining up just after 5 a.m., hoping to get the jump on fellow riders. They quickly learned, however, that others had the same idea.

"I like the ferry, but you know, I don't wanna have to take it if I don't have to," ferry rider Tracy Salvador said.

Extra staff was on hand to help all the new riders, unfamiliar with using the ferry. The announcement of a BART strike pushed the ferry agency to add more boats, anticipating more riders.

"During the last strike I took the ferry into downtown," ferry rider Kathy Smith said. "It got so congested downtown I couldn't get out to South San Francisco."

Fellow ferry rider Jessi Thompson adds, "I woke up at 7 a.m. and had a panic moment trying to figure out how I was going to get to work."

And Thompson isn't alone. Thousands of commuters had to find other ways into the city during the second BART strike this year.

A couple people who casual carpool on a regular basis say they expected more people in line, but they did not expect the crush of traffic leaving the city Friday night that has caused the biggest delays.

We saw plenty of people waiting in lines for anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes.

There was also a lot of frustration with the crush of traffic heading across the Bay Bridge.

There are a couple carpoolers we talked to who describe a bit of confusion because this pick up area has been moved in the last several months. So it was difficult finding this spot and it's confusing for drivers to get here.

"I went to the old carpool section," Richmond commuter Debbie Lew said. "Some lady that was in a Muni thing directed us two blocks that way and one block that way behind there, further away from here."

"I just got off work," Vallejo commuter Cheryl LeBlanc said. "I have to go all the way to home to Vallejo so I can let my dog out and then come back to the city for 8 p.m."

For drivers looking to pick up riders, Friday's traffic turned into a pretty good challenge because they had to fight through gridlock to get to Folsom and Spear and then fight to get back in line to get on the Bay Bridge.

But there were lots of drivers who continue to brave the back up and pick up plenty of riders.

Stay with ABC7NEWS.COM for updates on the BART strike and information on how to get around while the trains aren't running. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ and download our news app for the latest news whenever and wherever you want.

(Bay City News and ABC7 News reporters Laura Anthony, Matt Keller, Amy Hollyfield, Sergio Quintana, and Nick Smith contributed to this story.)


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