BART Strike Begins After Collapse of Contract Talks
Current status, 8:30 a.m. Friday The commute into San Francisco has been, as expected, pretty awful. Interstate 880, the Nimitz Freeway, has backed up at times all the way from Hayward up to the Bay Bridge — nearly 20 miles. Interstate 580, the MacArthur Freeway, has been backed up to Highway 24. Speaking of 24, it’s back up to speed after having been slow in long stretches all the way from Walnut Creek to the 580 interchange. The Eastshore Freeway, I-80, has been backed up to Richmond.
On the other hand, after years of occasional Bay Bridge closures and last July’s BART strike, disruptions are nothing new to Bay Area commuters and commute services. BART is running bus service, AC Transit and other agencies are operating extra buses, and the San Francisco Bay Ferry system is sailing extra runs. All of those are crowded but operating smoothly this morning.
Update, 12:01 a.m.: For the second time in 2013, BART is on strike. Union pickets are ready to take up positions at stations throughout the Bay Area. We have no indication yet when union and management negotiators will attempt to resume talks, which broke down Thursday afternoon in a dispute over work rules at the transit agency.
First response The California Republican Party marked the beginning of the strike by renewing its call for a law to stop BART workers from walking out. That idea was first floated last month by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, who asked Gov. Jerry Brown to call a special session of the Legislature to pass the bill. Brown declined, citing opposition from most legislators, unions and even BART. He has signaled some interest in legislation that would submit transit disputes to binding arbitration.
- The breakdown: Talks broke down this afternoon after a 30-hour negotiation marathon. The federal mediator in charge of the talks said significant progress was made on many issues but ultimately the differences between the two sides could not be bridged. He said mediators are exiting the talks for now.
- Work rules dispute: Unions say they had reached agreement with the agency on pay, pension and medical benefits, but the talks foundered on BART’s insistence on changes in work rules. BART management says it wants changes in work rules to help assure the transit system’s future “efficiency and effectiveness.” Unions say the agency refused an offer to submit the work rules dispute to outside arbitration. BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the offer was rejected because unions were willing to submit only part of the contract to arbitration.
- Final contract offer:BART made an offer that was very close to the “last, best and final offer” first presented last Sunday and said it wants union leadership to submit that proposal to a rank-and-file vote. Union officials say they believe the offer has no chance of acceptance.
- Governor out of moves: Gov. Jerry Brown’s office says the governor, who moved to impose the cooling-off period that expired last week, has no more legal leverage to prevent a strike.
The details: SEIU Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez appeared outside the Caltrans building in Oakland after 30 straight hours of talks to announce that BART’s unions intend to strike at midnight. Federal mediators confirmed that talks had broken up, and BART management said it had repeated its “last, best and final” offer after unions refused to accept changes in work rules. BART General Manager Grace Crunican again called on union leaders to submit the offer to a rank-and-file vote.
Appearing outside Caltrans headquarters in Oakland, Sanchez accused BART management of forcing the dispute to a strike. Sanchez apologized to the public for what she acknowledged will be very difficult transit conditions if the walkout occurs.
Sanchez said her union had agreed “100 percent” with BART’s proposals for pay, for new pension contributions and for increased health-insurance payments. But she said BART had taken a “radical, hardline … harsh, entrenched and unjustified position” on work rules and working conditions.
Sanchez said that the unions had been willing to submit the work rules provisions to outside arbitration, but BART management refused the offer. She said that unless BART changed its tack in bargaining, a strike will begin at midnight.
“God willing, the general manager and BART board will move our unresolved conflict to an interest arbitration table instead of to the street,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez’s appearance was the first in a parade of the principals in this week’s talks.
George Cohen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, confirmed the negotiations are over and mediators are withdrawing from the talks. Despite significant progress in some areas, Cohen said, “In the final analysis, certain issues remained. The parties were unable to bridge the gap. Our efforts to do that at this point in time was not successful.” Cohen said mediators are “willing, ready and able” to re-enter the talks at the parties’ request.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the talks broke down over work rules that the district could not bend on. “The district made it very clear that we have certain rights that we need to maintain in this package, that we had a level we could afford if some of these rights were included in the package,” Crunican said after the talks broke down. “These were work rules that were essential to maintaining the future efficiency and effectiveness of the agency.”
When reporters asked for an example of the work rules at stake, Crunican mentioned “beneficial past practices,” a provision that she said gives workers a veto over new technology the district wants to introduce. “One example is pay stubs,” she said. “We all receive electronically our pay stubs online, but because back in history everyone received their pay stub in an envelope, we now use our foreworkers’ time to hand-deliver a pay stub to each individual worker. They waste their time doing something that could be done with automation. There are a number of things like that that go on at BART and it is time for management to be able to manage.”
When someone in the crowd called out, “We’re going on strike for pay stubs!”, Crunican added that “bidding,” the system by which many unions member receive job assignments, also needs to be overhauled.
Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said a walkout would be “a management strike, brought on by absolute arrogance and the fact that they thought that they could take workers’ rights away. We were close on two separate occasions to closing this deal. We had come together on areas of wages, of pension, of everything that they were asking for. We were this close. And yet at the last minute they threw in a management rights clause to take away our rights as workers. Everything else was done, and it should have been done.”
Crunican called on union leaders to submit the district’s proposal to a rank-and-file vote, just as she had last Sunday. But the SEIU’s Sanchez said that would only lead to a vote rejecting the contract and could lead to an even more protracted dispute.
Gov. Jerry Brown acted in August to impose a 60-day cooling-off period in the dispute. Evan Westrup, Brown’s spokesman, said tonight the governor has no further legal leverage to prevent a strike.
Update, 4 p.m.: Trains are running on a normal schedule. The BART labor negotiations have continued all night and all day and are now in their 30th consecutive hour. BART’s hired chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, has returned to the talks after a two-day absence. He was in Disneyland speaking to a transportation industry conference “The Art of Negotiating the Deal.” He’s quoted as saying earlier this afternoon “this should be in the final stretch” for the talks.
Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News has a question about the marathon:
#BARTstrike talks have now been going nonstop for 27 hours. Think about the last time you stayed up that long. Can they even think straight?
— Mike Rosenberg (@RosenbergMerc) October 17, 2013
The prelude to the second all-nighter in the talks this week came at 10:30 Wednesday night, when the now-familiar figure of George Cohen, the head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, announced that BART would run Thursday. He said unions and management are “totally engaged” in bargaining and progress was being made. He declined — “as is my custom” — to make a statement. He headed back into the Caltrans building after telling reporters and TV crews assembled outside the Caltrans building, “It’s lovely to see each of you.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting “at least one person seems comfortable betting that a strike won’t happen. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee left for Asia after delaying the trip for two days to ready the city for a possible strike, according to his spokeswoman.”
Update, 10 p.m. Wednesday: Leaders of SEIU Local 1021, which represents BART station agents janitors and some other workers, are gathering in the lobby of the Caltrans building in Oakland — an announcement of some kind appears imminent. Talks have continued all day between BART and its two biggest unions, again with the possibility of a strike being called for tomorrow. Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU Local 1021, announced early this afternoon the unions will do their best to announce the status of negotiations and Thursday train service by 10 p.m. tonight. By way of a mini-development in the saga, Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said later her union had not been consulted about the promise to make an early strike/no strike call this evening.
And by way of our reporter Alex Emslie, here’s the scene outside the Caltrans District 4 headquarters this evening as the media hunkers down for its nightly BART vigil:
— Alex Emslie (@SFNewsReporter) October 17, 2013
7 a.m. Wednesday: Talks adjourned just after midnight and are scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Last night, the wait for word on the negotiations ended just after 10 p.m. when George Cohen, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, confirmed there would be no strike today. Full transcript of Cohen’s remarks, by way of Alex Emslie, our reporter staking out the talks:
Thanks for bearing with us. I have a very brief statement, and I will not be taking any questions. You all should understand that bargaining continues to take place. Under our auspices, parties have made some progress, and the parties have authorized me to advise you that on behalf of themselves and in support of the public interest and all the riders in this area, there will be train service operating all day tomorrow. I appreciate your attention and your understanding that we are intimately involved in the negotiation process. We’re devoting all our efforts and energy to achieve an agreement, for the parties to achieve an agreement. And I will not be taking any questions, and I thank you for forbearing. Good evening.