Monday deadline menaces BART commuters

BART unions and management are no closer to resolving their differences than they were nearly four weeks ago when the transit unions went on strike forcing 400,000 riders to find another way to work.

Now, they have until Monday August 5 to reach a deal — or commuters will suffer the consequences.

BART unions say one reason for the lack of progress is BART negotiator Thomas Hock’s vacation. He’s paid $399,000 a year by the transit agency but decided that now would be a good time to take a breather and de-stress.

That’s almost a dollar for every commuter that could be stranded if BART and their unions can’t come to an agreement by next week.

Though Hock’s vacation was approved by state mediators, SEIU Local 1021 executive director Pete Castelli told CBS-SF talks would have made more progress if BART management’s lead negotiator had been present:

 “If BART can get their act together and actually bargain with us meaningfully, we can still get an agreement and that’s the goal, but we’re not ruling out any option.”

Both sides now have about a week to avoid another walkout.

Last month’s BART strike was bad enough; though it lasted just four days, it spawned hideous traffic nightmares for commuters as hundreds of thousands more cars were added to Bay Area roadways.

Area residents received a miracle reprieve in the form of an agreement for transit workers to return to work while negotiations continued.

Only negotiations didn’t continue.

While transit workers did return to work and trains started running again, negotiators from both sides have only used about a week of that time to speak to each other. That is, until Monday, when talks resumed.

No progress has yet been reported.

The major sticking points remain the lack of a raise for transit workers in the past five years, the amount employees contribute to their pensions and medical funds and accusations that BART management is trying to break local unions.

Zachary Mallet, BART director, cited the transit agency’s position to CBS-SF:

 “They pay nothing into their pensions and medical, it’s just $92 a month.”

The one ray of hope for Bay Area commuters is that both sides have said they’ll extend next week’s deadline if progress is being made.