BART, unions meet at negotiation table


And there's not much time to reach a deal. According to BART, only three days of talks are scheduled this week and there's only one session scheduled for all of next week.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday sessions are on the calendar for each of the two weeks after that, but BART points out that one of the two big unions isn't available on October 9th -- the day before a 60-day cooling off period ends.

At the eleventh hour on Monday the unions came out and said they have made a counter proposal that is 10 million less expensive than previous proposals. Among other things the unions are reducing their request for a wage increase from 21.5 percent over three years to 13.5 percent over three years.

ABC7 News spoke to BART's chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, around 4:30 p.m. and if he knew about this proposal at that time, he was not saying.

Hock says a lot of what's happening now is about the mediators going back and forth between the parties, hoping to find something to break the impasse.

"We continue to meet. We're meeting again tomorrow morning, all day tomorrow, I would assume so I think as long as we keep meeting, there always the hope that something is going to happen and we'll get a breakthrough somehow," said Hock.

A breakthrough is what's needed. BART is basically done negotiating, having put its last offer on the table the night before the cooling off began.

"I'm not sure BART is trying to look over any proposals. They said the proposal they last offered us is their proposal," said Chris Finn from ATU Local 1555.

The talks that occurred Monday afternoon were on what's known in labor negotiation lingo as "the generals" -- wages, pension and medical benefits.

"All the talk about safety and process, when really at the end of the day, it all comes down to money. The reason we do not have a deal is because the labor unions are still asking for a 20-plus percent pay increase," said BART communication director Alicia Trost.

"We're not focused on a strik,e we're focused on negotiation presently," said

But BART is planning for a strike nonetheless, saying it believes the unions are willing to be out for a month.

BART has about 12 managers, former train operators who are certified to drive trains and would, although they will need some refreshers to get up to speed.

For new certification, the California Public Utilities Commission requires a 16-week training program.

"If there is a strike, we need to come up with a plan if we need to turn to that to run a very, very limited skeleton service, really a lifeline service, to keep the Bay Area mobile," said Trost.

"It doesn't take just someone to sit in the cab and operate the train, also takes a support staff of maintenance folks, to make sure the train control systems are systems working properly, the electrical systems are working properly, and the track systems are working properly," said Saul Almanza from SEIU, Local 1021.

BART commuter Nicole Vannucchi says if there is a strike, she'll use buses, though she has no problem with managers operating trains.

"That makes sense. I mean that sounds like the realistic thing that should happen," said Nicole Vanucchi, a BART rider.

About the negotiation schedule between now and the earliest the strike would begin is Oct. 10, there are only 10 days. That doesn't sound like a lot of time, when you consider what we've been through on these negotiations. Hock said that is plenty of time based on his experience. In fact he said, "It's a God-aweful" amount of time they've already spent on these negotiations. They should be able to come to an agreement.

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