Published Friday, June 29, 2001, in the Oakland Tribune
Strike may shut BART down on Sunday
Union, transit officials deadlocked on wages
By Sean Holstege
OAKLAND -- The possibility of a systemwide BART strike on Sunday
suddenly became real Thursday after BART officials announced that
they would not seek the usual 60-day cooling-off period if the unions
agreed to do the same.
Union agents said they would respond by 10 a.m. today , but all day
Thursday they demanded to make Saturday's deadline real. Their
initial reaction was talk of a strike.
"If all the district wants to do is talk about process for the next
three days, I don't see how we can avoid it," said George Popyack, a
bargaining representative for the American Federation of State,
Municipal and County Employees Local 3393.
BART's offer came as pressure mounted all day Thursday from both
sides of a deadlocked bargaining table, and outsiders, to settle BART
labor talks by midnight on Saturday.
Until yesterday, all sides had assumed that talks would be headed for
a governor-declared 60-day "cooling-off" period, as BART labor talks
had at each of the last four attempts.
The governor can only take such an action, designed as an emergency
measure to avert a strike, at the request of BART or its labor
unions. Governor Davis would not intervene without a request,
spokeswoman Hilary McLean said.
A strike would disrupt the commutes of 355,000 riders who use the 95-
mile transit system every weekday.
Earlier in the day, during a noisy meeting in the BART boardroom,
officials from three unions, representing 2,800 employees, demanded a
settlement by the Saturday deadline and threatened an immediate
strike if it did not happen.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Robert Smith said the
chance of a strike was growing, not receding.
Representatives of the Service Employees International Union Local
790 were also pessimistic about progress at the table.
By 5 p.m. labor officials and BART General Manager Tom Margro said
little progress had been made during Thursday's bargaining sessions.
The stage is now set for intense negotiations over the next two days,
to avoid a rerun of events in 1997. Then, after an unproductive
cooling-off period, talks were concluded only after a six-day strike
that crippled the region's mobility.
A major step toward another walkout came Wednesday, when labor
councils for Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties all
unanimously gave BART workers approval to shut down the system.
During Thursday's board meeting, BART Director Joel Keller proposed a
mutually accepted 30-day extension to continue talks without a
cooling off period.
"People don't seem to think that June 30 is the real deadline, but
that the real deadline is 60 days later," Keller, an AFSCME member,
said. "I'd like to avoid that at all costs."
His idea was greeted with chants of "No. No. No."
However, some labor negotiators said they were open to extending
talks day-by-day if real progress were made, an agreement were near
and BART promised not to seek intervention by the governor.
BART Spokesman Mike Healy said that daily extensions settled a 1985
Meanwhile, 17 Bay Area state lawmakers weighed in this week with a
letter to BART directors urging a swift conclusion to talks.
"It frankly strains credibility to believe you can do so well in
performance and capital development, yet not fairly compensate those
whose labor make it all possible," stated a letter by Sen. Don
BART and its unions are stalled largely on wages, at a time of record-
breaking ridership and self-sufficiency, but growing uncertainty.
BART has budgeted 3 percent wage increases, and noted the district
faces a $1 billion seismic repair bill, a 65 percent increase in
electricity costs and expensive maintenance needs.
Unions had originally sought closer to 30 percent over three years.
Thursday, union agents complained that the transit agency is also
trying to whittle their strength and weaken protections against
discipline. They also complained that the agency is not discussing
District manager Margro said, "There needs to be movement from
everybody." He said the district is riddled with absenteeism from
drivers and station agents. He also said the unions are still
demanding three times the amount they agreed to in 1997. Unions have
said BART's offer does not keep pace with inflation.
Alameda ferry operators were on standby to begin extra "BART strike"
service on Sunday.