BART strike could snarl commute for thousands

With Monday’s morning commute hanging in the balance, BART workers could decide today to authorize a strike if contract talks with the transit agency continue to remain deadlocked by the midnight Sunday deadline.

BART’s two largest unions, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, representing BART’s train operators, station agents and maintenance workers, will decide today whether to authorize a strike.

At stake is not only the working wages of transit operators, but also the commute of approximately 200,000 Bay Area workers.

No date for a strike has been set and both sides say they remain optimistic for a resolution to the stalled negotiations, even as workers and management remain far apart on their positions.

As part of its effort to raise $15 billion to modernize and upgrade its rail fleet, BART management wants workers to contribute to their pension plans, pay more in health care fees and accept a change in work rules to avoid overtime pay.

Workers, however, contend that the BART system is generating $125 million in surplus annually, while workers haven’t had a raise in five years.

They’re seeking a five percent raise every year for three years and a cost of living adjustment. Management is offering a one percent raise every year for four years.

Unions aren’t required to give notice before striking, but they’ve generally warned commuters 72 hours in advance.

Officials are warning the public to be prepared as a transit strike could mean increased delays, traffic and headaches for hundreds of thousands of commuters across the Bay Area.

Other transit systems such as transbay and Peninsula bus service, Caltrain and Muni will likely see an increase in ridership if the strike happens. Some commuters will be forced into their private cars on already crowded roads.

Unions filed a lawsuit against the transportation agency last week claiming they aren’t willing to bargain on safety issues, while BART publicized the case of a station agent arrested for filing a false police report.