BART, Unions Present Their Case Before Board of Inquiry
by Dan Brekke, Jon Brooks, Bryan Goebel
The BART Board of Inquiry held an all-day meeting in Oakland on Wednesday. The three-member panel was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to conduct a fact-finding hearing on stalled strike negotiations between BART unions and management. It will then present a report to the governor within the week, minus any recommendations on what actions should be taken.
In the morning session, BART officials made the case for their latest contract offer. BART General Manager Grace Crunican said that rising health and pension costs have combined with wages to make up more than 70 percent of the agency’s operating budget.
The three unions contended that BART has not been bargaining in good faith. The unions also reiterated their concerns about safety, and SEIU officials said two workers have died on the job recently. Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for the union, said she is strongly opposed to a 60-day cooling-off period because she fears BART will employ more delaying tactics.
There’s word, however, that negotiations are going to resume tomorrow morning. Mooney said she would like to get a deal by Sunday, but if that doesn’t happen the unions are prepared to strike again starting Sunday night.
Brown stepped into the deadlocked talks Sunday at the request of BART officials. The intervention prevented workers from going out on strike a second time. Most planners thought that action would have tied up the Bay Area commute considerably worse than the four-day walkout in early July, which occurred around the July 4 holiday.
Brown acted under a state law that allows him to order a board of inquiry if a strike or lockout threatens to disrupt public transportation and endanger “the public’s health, safety, or welfare.”
After the board makes its report to Brown, and if there has been no agreement in the interim, the governor must decide whether to ask for a 60-day cooling-off period to keep BART trains running. A court would have to make the final decision on enjoining the strike.
But the San Jose Mercury News reported on Monday that if precedent is any guide, there’s an excellent chance that is what’s going to happen.
In each of the last five BART labor disputes where governors intervened — between 1988 and 2001 — the script was the same.
In every instance, as the deadline for a deal approached, the governor appointed a three-member “fact-finding” committee to forestall a strike for a week while the panel investigated whether both sides were bargaining in good faith. By the end of the week, the governor — citing the board’s findings — declared the strike would “endanger the public’s health, safety or welfare,” as the law requires, and secured an injunction from a judge to halt a BART shutdown for 60 days.
“I would think we’re heading toward more of the same,” said William Gould, a Stanford emeritus professor of law who specializes in labor issues. The seven-day delay “never works. We have to look at the record, and the record is not promising.” Full article
BART board President Tom Radulovich had actually asked Brown to declare the 60-day cooling-off period last week, but Brown’s convening of the board of inquiry stopped short of that request.
The two sides cannot even seem to agree on how far apart they are. According to BART, the gap is about $100 million. The SEIU says it’s only $40 million. BART says it’s now offering a 9 percent pay increase over four years, while calling for employees to pay a graduated rate per year of up to 5 percent toward their pensions. Employees do not pay any pension costs now.
BART says it is offering to let employees pay the same same flat rate of $92 per month for health care, regardless of how many family members are on the plan, but would “cap the amount it pays at the lowest cost of a Blue Shield or Kaiser family plan. Those who choose to pick a more expensive plan will have to pay the difference.”
On Wednesday night, BART released a document to the committee.