Union blasts BART management as talks resume

Union reps and BART officials returned to the bargaining table Thursday night, but it doesn’t appear things are off to a friendly start.

After a strike earlier this month idled BART trains for 4-1/2 days, labor leaders and BART managers agreed on July 4 on a temporary deal that would extend the expired union contract for 30 days.

But with another strike deadline approaching — and even before the two sides started talking again — Service Employees International Union 1021 president John Arantes issued a statement ripping BART management and claiming that the talks would be cut short because the district’s lead negotiator, Thomas Hock, would be leaving on vacation:

“With a possible disruption in Bay Area rider service hanging in the balance, Thomas Hock and his $399,000 taxpayer funded salary are going on vacation, which has caused the cancellation of an entire week of negotiations. This makes it clear for all to see that BART Board President  Tom Radulovich, BART General Manager Grace Crunican and their hatchet man, Thomas Hock, are simply not engaging in good faith negotiations.”

The blast by the the union — one of two major unions representing BART workers — comes as what appears to be a strategy to turn up the rhetoric against management.

During Thursday morning’s BART Board of Directors meeting, SEIU Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez told the board and assembled crowd:

“We will be prepared for the bloodiest, longest strike since the 1970s if this kind of tactics continue.”

Earlier this week, union protesters gathered outside the home of BART general manager Grace Crunican, demanding that she write a check to taxpayers for a portion of her $315,000 annual salary.

For its part, BART issue a statement late Thursday through spokesman Rick Rice responding to the union’s criticism:

“Mr. Hock is here today. He will be here tomorrow as previously scheduled and also next Monday and Tuesday and the rest of next week if the mediator deems it necessary to meet. At the time the mediators suggested the 30-day extension and return to work Mr. Hock informed them that he had other commitments from July 24 to July 28 and would be unavailable. The mediators agreed that this still left ample time to negotiate a contract.”

With both sides acknowledging they remain far apart on a number of issues including pay raises, health care costs and pensions, the thousands of commuters who ride BART every day will be keeping a close eye on the talks as the August 4 deadline to reach a contract deal approaches.