Governor’s order averts BART strike

The thousands of commuters who rely on BART to get them to work every day have dodged a bullet, at least for seven days.

With BART managers and union officials failing to come to an agreement on a labor deal that would have stopped BART service for the second time this summer, Governor Jerry Brown stepped in late Sunday night and appointed a board of inquiry to investigate the contract dispute.

About 90 minutes before a midnight strike deadline, the governor notified BART managers and union officials that — at the request of BART management — he was appointing a board to conduct a seven-day investigation into the matter.  And while the board investigates, a strike is prohibited.

In his letter, Brown told both sides:

“The board is directed to provide me with a written report within the next seven days. For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge – in the strongest terms possible – the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved.”

With no labor agreement in place, the 2,600 workers represent by BART’s two biggest unions  — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — would have gone on strike just after midnight, forcing the nearly 400,000 passengers who ride BART every day to find other ways to get to work.

SEIU President Roxanne Sanchez issued a statement welcoming the investigation, but accusing BART’s managers of bargaining in bad faith.

“In just the final two days before the expiration of the contract, our bargaining team waited for 22 hours for BART management negotiators to counter our proposals on core issues of pay and benefits. Our hope is that the Governor’s Board of Investigation will reveal how little time BART management has spent at the bargaining table in the past 30 days, compared with how much time they’ve spent posturing to the media. Our hope is that the Governor’s Board can show the public how BART has manipulated the process and continued to bargain in bad faith.”

For its part, BART released a letter from board president Tom Radulovich asking the governor to intervene and to issue a “cooling off” period.

In his letter to the governor, Radulovich wrote:

“This would allow us to continue negotiating while assuring the public that it will have transit service tomorrow and for another 60 days as we continue to bargain.”

Since a four-day strike in early July, mediators have joined BART managers and union officials in trying to reach a labor deal, but both sides continue to blame each other for failing to come to terms, while remaining at odds over pay, health benefits and other issues.