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BART Employees Authorize Strike By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 24, 2005

On Thursday BART employees gave their unions the green light to strike as early as July 1 if they can’t come to terms on a new agreement with the transit agency. 

Union representatives, however, said that a strike was not assured and that they would give commuters 72 hours notice before walking off their jobs. 

A strike by BART’s three largest unions, which represent roughly 2,700 workers, would grind East Bay’s primary public transportation system to a halt. “One would assume there will not be any trains to speak of,” said BART Spokesperson Linton Johnson. 

Commuters shouldn’t rely on AC Transit to pick up much of the slack in the event of a strike, said Clarence Johnson, AC Transit manager of media relations. The bus company could increase the frequency of transbay routes during off peak hours, but otherwise lacks the resources to boost service. 

“We don’t have any more buses, not to mention operators to run them,” he said. 

When BART last went on strike in 1997 the agency ran minimal service, Johnson said. BART currently serves 310,000 passengers every weekday. 

Contracts for BART’s three largest employee unions expire June 30. Stalled negotiations prompted the unions to vote overwhelmingly Thursday to authorize a strike.  

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 830 train operators, voted 95 percent to authorize a strike. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993, which represents nearly 200 supervisory employees voted 93 percent and SEIU Local 790, which represents about 1,400 custodians and maintenance workers, voted 957 to 18 for strike authorization. 

The votes come one month after ATU, Local 1555 President Harold Brown and SEIU, Local 790 BART Chapter Vice President Bud Brandenberger told The Planet they didn’t expect to strike. 

BART’s Johnson called the strike authorization, “a negotiating ploy. The story would have been if they voted against authorizing a strike,” he said. 

Thomas Dewar, press officer for SEIU, Local 790, said the union hoped that the strike authorization would break the stalemate.  

Facing a $24 million deficit this year, BART has offered the unions four-year contracts with zero pay raises and reduced medical benefits. The unions did not disclose their counter offer. The current four-year contract expiring next year gave the unions 24 percent pay increases. Johnson said the average union employee costs BART over $100,000 in salary and benefits. 

Dewar said that SEIU did not plan to petition the state for 60-day cooling off period to avert a labor action. “We want to get this behind us,” he said. “We’re not trying to play games with the public keeping them on pins and needles over how they get to work.” 

Johnson declined to comment if BART would seek a 60-day reprieve. If neither side requests the cooling off period the state would lack the authority to prevent a strike.  

Last month to reduce its deficit from $53 million to $24 million, BART approved charging for parking at ten stations and raising ticket prices 10 cents in January. The agency also cut 115 positions, about half of which were vacant.