BART, unions quietly reach labor deal

Heralding the tentative agreement as a turning point in BART labor relations, union leaders and management lauded a proposed worker contract that would stem the possibility of strikes for the next five years.

The proposed agreement, which must still be ratified by union membership and the BART Board of Directors, would give workers at 10.5 percent pay raise over the next four years.

It also buys some time for both sides to negotiate the agency’s pension agreement, which is currently the subject of a lawsuit between the State of California and the U.S. Department of Labor.

The remainder of the agreement will remain the same, said BART General Manager Grace Crunican.

Sal Cruz, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993, said:

“This is a pivotal moment in BART’s history in labor relations. … The amount of collaboration it took to make this happen was tremendous.”

BART workers went on strike in July 2013, shutting the system down for several days over complaints about pay and safety concerns. A second strike began in October 2013. BART board president Tom Radulovich said the resulting contract was:

“… not a terrible agreement, but it was a terrible process in getting there. … We really let the Bay Area down.”

Following the strikes, the BART Board of Directors hired a consultant to review the breakdown in negotiations. A subsequent report, published in September 2014, proposed 31 recommendations to improve future talks.

BART management and union leaders began working together roughly two years ago to address the toughest of the report’s recommendations, said Chris Finn, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555. The two sides met in November for a two-day meeting, which Finn said was successful in advancing the current contract.

Finn said:

“Now was about the time where we had to decide, are we going to dedicate our resources to focusing on preparing for upcoming negotiations in 2017, or are we going to focus our resources on keeping BART moving?”

Crunican said the agreement would ensure five years of labor peace and would enable the agency to invest in replacing and repairing the system’s aged infrastructure.

The labor agreement comes at a time when BART has been under fire for system failures, including electrical problems that disabled trains between BART’s Pittsburg/Bay Point and North Concord/Martinez stations, causing massive delays and forcing riders onto shuttles between the two East Bay stations for several weeks.

The BART Board of Directors indicated in February that the agency plans to pursue a $3.5 billion bond measure that would be placed on November ballot. The bond measure is slated for track and station improvements and would not be used to pay for salary increases for workers, Crunican said:

“The bond measure is about capital investment in the system. … None of that money can be used to pay the workers. This will all be paid for on the operating side of the budget.”

Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy organization, lauded the agreement as a “rider-centric move.” Crunican said it would allow the agency to better focus on repairing and replacing the system’s infrastructure:

“We use our workers to make those reinvestments. … This agreement will allow us to focus on rebuilding.”

The agreement is expected to be ratified by BART unions and the Board of Directors in the coming weeks. Once in effect, it will be in place until 2021.