Page One

Talks to avert BART strike span long holiday weekend

By Ritu Bhatnagar Associated Press Writer
Tuesday September 04, 2001

OAKLAND — BART unions say they’re much closer to an agreement, but management says they’re still far apart, as negotiations continued through the Labor Day holiday. 

Mike Healy, a BART spokesman, said the unions would need to move more on the issue of wages before they reach a settlement. 

On Saturday, the train services’ largest workers’ unions issued a 72-hour strike notice. The deadline is midnight Tuesday, but workers said they would postpone a strike if they receive a suitable offer. 

BART’s latest offer is an 18.5 percent increase over four years, and the unions countered this weekend with a 20.5 percent increase. The unions are waiting to hear back from BART. 

“In our opinion, we have moved a lot,” said Bob Smith, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555. 

BART initially offered an 11.5 percent pay increase over four years, but boosted it Friday. The unions have reduced their request for improved salaries and benefits from 27 percent over three years. 

BART’s proposal would raise wages by about $10,000. “Train operators earning $48,000 would be earning over $57,000 at the end of the four years under BART’s proposal,” Healy said. 

BART expects to raise fares over the next two years to accommodate higher wages, as well as to account for increased operating expenses. Healy said it was still too early to estimate the amount of a fare increase. 

“Over 50 percent of our ridership will earn less than what our workers will earn,” said BART General Manager Thomas Margo. “What we’re asking is for the unions to also look at the needs of riders. If fares go up and people stop using BART, it won’t be a good result for both sides.” 

Smith said the unions are requesting increases in accordance with cost of living in the Bay Area and inflation. 

The unions have asked San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez to help in the negotiations. 

Union members said that a strike — in which 2,800 BART workers would head to the picket lines — would cost BART about $500,000 in lost fares a day. Smith said it would take nine days for BART to lose the amount of money that the unions are requesting. 

BART transports more than 300,000 Bay Area commuters a day, who will have to search for alternatives on Wednesday morning if there’s a strike. 

BART’s last strike in 1997 resulted in massive traffic problems. Bay Area legislators have warned that a strike this time around could create even worse traffic, as well as overcrowding of the AC Transit system. 

In anticipation of a strike, Alameda and Oakland ferry services, San Francisco’s Muni and San Mateo County’s Sam Trans will increase their services. BART will also offer a limited bus service from four stations, Pleasant Hill, El Cerrito Del Norte, Dublin/Pleasanton and Fremont.