BART labor negotiations are breaking down faster than a train at rush hour.
In the latest turn on the BART labor drama, two of the largest transit unions filed a lawsuit this morning, claiming that BART leaders are not bargaining in good faith, specifically when it comes to worker safety.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021 fired off a press release after filing the lawsuit in Alameda County court this morning, just a week before their contract is set to expire on June 30. Tomorrow, the unions are slated to vote on whether to authorize a strike, which would be really , really bad for commuters.
However, the unions state that there have been more than 2,400 serious crimes committed on the transit system over the last three years -- in five stations alone. There were more than 1,000 physical attacks on riders in the same time period, and more than 100 physical attacks on BART employees. These crimes include rape, homicide, and (naked) assaults, to name a few.
Last week, BART workers ditched negotiations and instead wrote BART leaders a letter, saying they'd come back to the bargaining table once safety was made a top priority. Specifically, they're asking for things like bullet-proof glass at BART stations. The next day, talks resumed, but obviously, things didn't go well.
The unions cite numerous examples of BART's "unfair labor practices," and said that negotiators have "categorically refused to bargain over safety matters that could not be more important to the workers, and the riders of this otherwise great transit system."
"It's difficult to negotiate improvements with politicians who won't even admit the most obvious problems," says Antonette Bryant, president of ATU 1555. "First they tried to create a phony budget crisis to justify increased fares for riders and wage cuts for workers, and now they're ignoring a mounting wave of violence against workers and riders. All we want is a fair wage and a safe workplace -- that's not too much to ask."
Not long after the suit was filed, Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for BART, fired off her own statement on behalf of the transit agency:
We haven't seen the lawsuit, but regardless, BART is at the table bargaining in good faith for a sustainable and fair contract.
We have drawn no line in the sand and have already made concessions and compromises. We suggest our unions stop diverting attention from the real issues of increasing pension and medical costs and join us at the table for a thoughtful conversation about how best to invest in our employees and our system. These ploys are a smoke screen for the fact union leaders are refusing to bring our contracts in line with what is normal for the Bay Area and the transit industry. Employees need to begin paying a share of their pension plan and more than what they currently pay for health care- only $92 a month.
Last Monday, in an effort to de-politicize the safety issue, BART's Chief of Police and heads of Operations, Maintenance, and Transportation made a comprehensive three hour Safety presentation to the union leadership of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.
Rather than continue that constructive dialog the next day, the union leaders instead cancelled the negotiations.
We are committed to serious negotiation that will result in a fair and responsible contract.
In sort-of related news, there are 10-minute delays on BART in the SFO, Millbrae and Daly City due to "police activity." We'll update you when we know more.
Update 1:25 p.m.: A BART spokesperson informed us that the delays were caused by a person running back-and-forth between the track and the platform. The incident didn't last long, but it probably irritated commuters.