BART contract talks continues

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OAKLAND (BCN)

A BART spokesman said today that management is putting a new comprehensive proposal on the bargaining table in hopes of reaching an agreement with the transit agency’s labor unions before their contracts expire Sunday night.

The announcement comes two days after members of the two largest BART unions voted to authorize a strike. Other Bay Area transit agencies are preparing contingency plans for a possible BART strike, which could happen as soon as Monday.

BART spokesman Rick Rice said management’s proposal is “closer” to the unions’ positions on the key issues regarding pensions, health benefits and salaries, and also tries to address the unions’ safety concerns.

But in a bad sign for negotiations — which were set to resume at 11 a.m. today — Leo Ruiz, a spokesman for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and foreworkers, accused management of bargaining in bad faith by presenting their proposal to the news media before giving it to the unions.

“We know nothing about this,” Ruiz told reporters outside the room at BART headquarters in Oakland where Rice and other BART representatives held a news conference.

Ruiz said, “They should bring this proposal to us first.”

He said the unions made a proposal to management on Wednesday “but they turned it down and didn’t say why.”

Ruiz accused BART negotiators of “dragging their feet since April 1,” when contract talks began.

BART management has said the labor unions are seeking a 23 percent salary increase over three years but Ruiz said the unions’ opening offer was for a smaller increase of 5 percent a year plus cost-of-living increases.

The other union involved in contract negotiations is Service Employees International Union Local 1221, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers.

The two unions announced on Wednesday that their members have voted nearly unanimously to authorize a strike.

But the unions have said that they’re still trying to reach an agreement so a strike can be avoided.

Rice echoed that sentiment today, saying, “We’re really trying to keep the trains running. We believe there’s a deal to be had.”

He said talks are scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and then continue from 7 p.m. until late into the night. Negotiations will then resume at 11 a.m. Friday and will go all weekend if necessary, he said.

Rice said BART has asked Gov. Jerry Brown not to order a 60-day cooling off period that would delay a strike if an agreement isn’t reached by Sunday.

The last time BART employees staged a strike was in September 1997. The walkout lasted six days before a settlement was finally reached.

Rice said the labor unions have promised in the past to give at least 72 hours’ notice before going on strike but there’s no guarantee they will give that much notice this time.

(Copyright 2013 Bay City News.  All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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