LOCAL L.A. Now

As possible BART strike looms, officials call for weekend deal

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the clock ticked toward another potential regional transit strike, Bay Area public officials banded together Friday to press management and labor to resolve their differences and spare the riding public significant hardship.

The unions representing the majority of Bay Area Rapid Transit workers issued a 72-hour notice of intent to strike late Thursday as the clock ticked toward a Sunday midnight deadline on contract negotiations.

That marks the end of a 30-day contract extension that both sides accepted after a 4 1/2-day strike last month. It was the first regional transit strike in 16 years.

With a line of local and regional officials behind him, California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern joined San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at his City Hall office Friday morning to call for an end to the uncertainty.

Lee said that over the past month he had spoken to numerous workers at hotels, coffee shops and restaurants as well as to owners of small businesses who conveyed the suffering another strike would cause them.

“I couldn’t even get a burrito without confronting someone who asked that we take our stand on behalf of the public,” he said. “We need an agreement and not a strike in our public transit system. The public ridership, the 400,000 people who ride BART [daily], need a voice at this table.”

Lee said a strike hits lower-income families the hardest -- those trying to get to more than one job and access child care. Those who cannot afford the cost of high-priced parking garages.

"I want to put a face on the ridership ... for the people who are every day struggling with their lives, for them to know we are representing them and insisting as strongly as we can: Negotiations should not be about announcing to the public the differences they have so much as reaching an agreement. We have to get an agreement.”

Morgenstern said Gov. Jerry Brown will “consider all options” to avert a strike, including intervention. It was Morgenstern who had helped broker the 30-day contract extension, and he expressed exasperation that it had not yet yielded results after 28 days.

"We don’t expect them to leave the bargaining table without an agreement," he said, adding that anything less would “be a serious failure” that the public "should not abide."

He and Lee both noted that the planning scramble to beef up transit alternatives and provide for traffic management represents an expense that local entities should not have to bear over and over.

"It's time for this to end," Morgenstern said.

A federal and state mediator have been at the table but the past month has produced little more than acrimony between the two largest worker unions and BART management.

Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 continue to press for raises over the course of the contract that exceed 20% after making a series of concessions in recent years in a down economy.

BART management had countered with an 8% raise proposal over four years but is also asking workers, who earn a median salary of about $80,000, to contribute to their pensions -- they currently do not -- and increase their healthcare contribution from the current flat rate of $92 per month.

Union leaders have lambasted management for only being at the table about half of the past four weeks due to vacation schedules. SEIU chief negotiator Josie Mooney, who listened to the news conference quietly from the rear of the room, held her own media availability outside Mayor Lee’s office door Friday.

While a gag order prevented her from discussing the details of negotiations, Mooney noted that management late Wednesday came forward with an “encouraging” verbal offer -- the first since its last offer on July 2. Though Mooney said she had not yet seen it in writing, she noted that it showed movement on “one of the economic areas.”

Labor leaders have also demanded that safety concerns be addressed at the bargaining table -- debris and poor lighting on the tracks, more booths for station agents who have been subject to assault, and a reopening of bathrooms to prevent the accumulation of urine and feces that often causes escalators to short out.

While they have accused management of unwillingness to address those issues, a BART spokesman has called them a “red herring” that divert attention from key economic differences.

On that front, Mooney said that a janitorial station agent who currently earns $42,000 a year would end up making $1,950 less after four years under the original management proposal, because contributions to healthcare and pensions would outweigh raises. BART spokesman Rick Rice contested labor's assertion that management has stonewalled, saying in a statement that the transit district “has responded to union leadership concerns with numerous concessions, while they have shown an unwillingness to bargain.

“They continue to insist on a 20-plus percent pay increase with no changes to healthcare and a small pension contribution. The future of the system depends on a more reasonable contract,” he added, noting that BART is willing to stay at the table “for as long as it takes to reach an agreement.”

Meanwhile Friday, the Bay Area Council, which represents the region’s business interests, released the results of a poll showing strong opposition to a BART worker strike, with a definitive majority saying that workers are fairly compensated and an even larger number saying that BART should invest any available funds in upgrading and expanding the aging system.

The poll of 475 residents living in counties directly served by BART found that 70& of respondents oppose a strike and that 92% think a strike will have a significant impact on the economy. A recent Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimate conservatively put the economic impact of a BART strike at $73 million a day in lost worker productivity.

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Twitter: @leeromney

lee.romney@latimes.com

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