BART union, leaders make a deal; trains running on time

By Margie Mason The Associated Press
Thursday October 25, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Hundreds of thousands of commuters awoke Wednesday to news that Bay Area Rapid Transit trains would be running after an overnight deal between management and a union averted a strike. 

BART’s smallest union, representing 238 train controllers and supervisors, announced it accepted a wage and benefits package that had been on the table for days. 

“We have reached basically a win-win for both sides,” said Norma del Mercado, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993. She said the union won better terms on job protection and a grievance procedure. 

BART officials said the four-year contract was essentially unchanged from a proposal the union had earlier rejected. 

“We never felt they were strike issues, but the union did,” BART spokesman Mike Healy said Wednesday. “We’re all relieved that we were able to pull it together.” 

Healy said the agreement reached is similar to the contract BART unions representing maintenance and train operators accepted September 4. Those contracts called for a 22 percent wage increase over the next four years, increased pension plan contributions and continued health care coverage at no added cost to employees. 

He said the union would likely vote on the contract next week, and if it was accepted the BART board would vote to ratify it. 

The agreement was reached about an hour after the union’s midnight deadline expired Tuesday. The union accepted a tentative contract similar to one signed earlier by two other unions. 

AFSCME wanted all employees who do the same job to be paid the same wage, regardless of experience or tenure. BART officials had said that would bump salaries up to unmanageable levels. The union also worried jobs would be outsourced to nonunion contractors and consultants. 

It was not immediately clear how those issues were resolved because neither side would discuss specifics of modifications to the contract. 

Still, union and BART officials were pleased with the outcome. 

“Sometimes there’s just some little creative thing that’s put in place, and that’s what happened,” said Healy. “We thought it was going to go down the tubes a little earlier and, at last minute, we were able to avoid it.” 

Talks broke down Tuesday evening after the union rejected a deal BART offered with an 8 p.m. deadline. Talks later resumed, and an agreement was announced after some picketers had already began reporting to their posts. The union had set an initial strike deadline of midnight Monday, but agreed to a 24-hour extension after negotiations looked promising. 

BART’s two larger unions had agreed to honor a strike, which could have left more than 300,000 Bay Area commuters stranded. 

“The strike was averted because we continued to persevere in the discussions,” del Mercado said. “That’s how it was averted — by both sides sitting at the table and trying to hammer this situation out.” 

A supervisor earns an about $77,500 a year, according to BART officials. A 22 percent raise would increase that salary to $94,550. 

When BART was struck four years ago, the walkout produced six days of nightmarish freeway gridlock as thousands of commuters with no other way to get to work climbed into cars and jammed the Bay Area’s already congested highways. 

“I’m hoping that people will wake up and hear the news that BART is running just fine,” Healy said. “I think it’s going to be a big relief for everyone.”