Work rules for employees emerged as a key issue in BART contract negotiations that resulted in union leaders announcing Thursday that workers will go on strike today.
Josie Mooney, a lead negotiator for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said union leaders offered to go to arbitration to try to resolve differences about management’s proposed changes to work rules but management refused.
Speaking to reporters outside the Caltrans building in downtown Oakland where contract talks took place, Mooney said the unions’ plan to go on strike “is not about money” but instead is about “an employer who wants to go on strike.”
Antonette Bryant, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said in a statement that, “We’ve found agreement on nearly every ‘must-have’ issue for both sides including wages, pensions and benefits.”
But she alleged that “the last 72 hours have seen management demand new — and unreasonable — workplace authority that would give them license to abuse and extort our workers.”
BART management spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the transit agency wants work rules to be part of a comprehensive agreement with its employees, not a separate matter that would be decided in arbitration.
Trost said management wants to change work rules because it believes it would make BART more efficient and save money.
Rick Rice, another BART spokesman, said, “Work rule changes are very important and we’re insisting on them.”
Although Bryant said the unions had found agreement with management on wage, pensions and other benefits, Rice said management was still “far apart” from the unions on those issues.
BART Board President Tom Radulovich said on Monday that one work rule management wants to change is a provision that allows workers to get overtime even on weeks when they call in sick for a day if they work an extra day when they weren’t originally scheduled to work.
“They can get overtime even though they don’t work 40 hours,” Radulovich said.
He said, “Most of our workers don’t do that, but some do.”
Radulovich said current work rules that management believes favor workers are “a very expensive proposition” for BART.
Rice said at this point no further meetings between management and the unions are scheduled.
“I don’t know when we might meet again,” he said.
The contentious labor talks between BART and unions have dragged on for six months — a period that has seen a chaotic dayslong strike, a cooling-off period and frazzled commuters wondering if they’ll wake up to find the trains aren’t running.
BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the agency has been flooded with calls and emails this week from commuters frustrated that they haven’t been given earlier notices.
About 400,000 riders take BART every weekday on the nation’s fifth-largest commuter rail system.
The key issues during most of the talks had been salaries and worker contributions to their health and pension plans.
Talks began in April, three months before the June 30 contract expirations, but both sides were far apart. The unions initially asked for 23.2 percent in raises over three years. BART countered with a four-year contract with 1 percent raises contingent on the agency meeting economic goals.
The unions contended that members made $100 million in concessions when they agreed to a deal in 2009 as BART faced a $310 million deficit. And they said they wanted their members to get their share of a $125 million operating surplus produced through increased ridership.
The unions said one of the work rules that BART wanted to change was employees’ fixed work schedules. Mark Mosher, a communications consultant with SEIU Local 1021, said some workers work 4-day, 10-hour shifts while others work 5-day, 8-hour shifts.
“Some want longer work hours and shorter shifts due to child care, for some, it’s the only way a two-earner family can organize child care, but BART wants to schedule people whenever they want,” Mosher said.
But the transit agency countered that it needed to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.
“We are not going to agree to something we can’t afford. We have to protect the aging system for our workers and the public,” Crunican said.
On Sunday, she presented a “last, best and final offer” that includes an annual 3 percent raise over four years and requires workers to contribute 4 percent toward their pension and 9.5 percent toward medical benefits.
The value of BART’s proposal is $57 million, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.
Workers represented by the two unions, including more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff, now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, the transit agency said. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions.