BART contract talks get down to the wire


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After previously missing a June 30 deadline, negotiators for both sides are working overtime to try to reach an agreement before midnight Thursday, which is the second deadline.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said the talks, which began on April 1 and are now in their 98th day, will continue tonight and described the process as "pretty much a marathon."

Johnson said some progress has been made and he's "hopeful" that an agreement can be reached before midnight Thursday but he warned "we still have substantial ground to cover."

Jean Hamilton, the president of Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 200 middle managers, said, "I'm trying to be hopeful, but things change."

Hamilton said contract talks "sometimes move forward and sometimes move sideways."

She said, "There's lots of hard work going on and we're committed to trying to reach an agreement."

Although members of BART's three largest labor unions, including Local 3993, voted last month to authorize a strike, Hamilton said the unions don't want to go on strike.

She said any labor action "is dependent upon the district remaining at the table and bargaining in good faith."

Carlos Rivera, a spokesman for Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1,200 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, said, "We're focused on reaching an agreement by the deadline and we definitely don't want to go on strike."

Rivera said "it could be a late night Thursday" before an agreement is reached but added that "deadlines make things move quicker."

Although the current four-year contract for BART union employees had been scheduled to expire at midnight on June 30, both sides agreed on June 27 to extend the deadline after state mediators became involved in the talks.

The contract calls for BART workers to give management 72 hours before they go on strike. If an agreement isn't reached by midnight on Thursday, the earliest they could go on strike would be next Monday.

Johnson said another possibility is that talks could continue past midnight Thursday without a contract in place.

He noted that in the previous round of negotiations in 2005 talks continued after the contract expired on June 30 and an agreement wasn't reach until 3 a.m. on July 6, narrowly averting a strike that had been set to begin two hours earlier.

Johnson said management's priority remains trying to achieve $100 million in labor cost savings by having employees contribute more of the cost of their benefits, such as health care and retirement, and eliminating wasteful work rules.

He said BART wants to reduce its labor costs because it faces a projected $250 million deficit over the next four years.

SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers, are the two largest of BART's five labor unions and AFSCME Local 3993 is the third largest. ATU Local 1555 President Jesse Hunt wasn't available for comment today.

The two smallest unions represent BART police officers and managers.

The BART Police Managers Association represents sergeants, lieutenants and commanders and the BART Police Officers Association represents rank-and-file officers.

However, members of the police unions are barred from going on strike.

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