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Friday, October 18, 2013

BART Unions: We're Ready to Return to Work

Posted By on Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 3:48 PM

click to enlarge COBURN PALMER
  • Coburn Palmer

Accusations flew Friday as BART trains stood still and some 400,000 Bay Area commuters struggled to find another way to work.

BART workers went on strike at midnight Friday following a breakdown of marathon 28-hour negotiations over details for a new labor contract, specifically a proposed pay increase, healthcare, and work rules.

Both sides continued to trade accusations and point blame at one another through the day; then at noon, after about 12 hours of striking, BART unions held a press conference, where they told reporters they were ready to return to work -- as soon as they can "sign a fair contract." And therein lies the problem.

See Also: BART Goes on Strike: Sign This Petition If You're Mad

Regardless, BART unions certainly sympathize with commuters who stood in long lines to catch buses and ferries this morning, and will do so again this afternoon.

"It's really a sad day when our trains aren't running and they could be running," says Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

But it's the work rules that's really keeping the two sides apart. Before negotiations broke down, both management and unions agreed on increased employee contributions to healthcare and pension plans, but disagreed over work rules and management's proposal for a 12 percent pay hike over four years. Unions are seeking a 15.9 percent increase.

  • Coburn Palmer

BART management says they need the power to change the existing work rules because they need flexibility in managing their employees to maintain the transit system's on-time performance. The system's current work rules provide stable schedules for employees and allows management to easily investigate discrimination complaints. Management, however, says it needs greater flexibility.

"The issues that remain unresolved are not minor," says BART General Manager Grace Crunican. "They get to the heart of BART's need to function efficiently and economically."

Union leaders, meanwhile, say the current work rules provide for workplace protection and employee safety. They say the rules they have now protect their employees from being sent to perform different jobs in different locations everyday.

While the irritated and flustered commuters contemplated a weekend without BART, union members stood strong outside the Oakland Lake Merritt BART station where they chanted slogans and carried signs throughout the day.

Union leaders claim BART management has been mischaracterizing their workers as uncooperative while portraying the disagreement as being all about the need for better technology to improve BART's on-time performance.

"They want to force 10-hour days on folks," says Sanchez. "It's the eight-hour day that's on the table, not fax machines."

Unions agreed to binding arbitration to settle the remaining issues of work rules and employee pay, however, management says the whole package of salary, benefits, pensions and work rules must be considered.

"What BART wants to do is dismantle our contract and if you dismantle our contract you dismantle our lives," says Pete Castelli, SEIU executive director. He added that workers are eager and ready to return to work, but need a fair contract first. "This isn't about coming back to the table, it's about signing a deal -- We're ready to sign a deal."

Several other union and pro-worker groups, including the Pacific Media Workers Guild and WEAP, also came out to Lake Merritt BART to show their solidarity with the unions. Among them was 39-year-old Karreem Williams.

"It's like making a relief pitcher pitch the whole game," he says. "Everyone deserves a raise."

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