San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition

BART, unions reach ac­cord

Deal likely averts strikes — lay­offs still pos­si­ble

- By Michael Ca­banat­uan Business · Labor Rights · Infectious Diseases · Social Issues · Society · Health Conditions · Service Employees International Union · American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees · Michael Jones

BART and its largest labor unions, ea­ger to avoid con­tentious ne­go­ti­a­tions while the tran­sit sys­tem re­cov­ers from pre­cip­i­tous rid­er­ship drops dur­ing the pan­demic, said Wed­nes­day that they’ve agreed on three­year con­tracts.

The ten­ta­tive agree­ments call for no raises the first year, up to 2% the sec­ond year and 2.5% the year af­ter that — but only if BART’s rid­er­ship re­cov­ers to at least 60% of pre­pan­demic lev­els. The con­tracts would take ef­fect July 1 and run through June 30, 2024. BART’s Board of Direc­tors is set to vote on the con­tracts Dec. 3.

As BART strug­gles to re­build its rid­er­ship, the deal will likely stave off po­ten­tial worker strikes for the next 3½ years.

“The agree­ments will al­low BART to fo­cus on pro­vid­ing con­sis­tent and re­li­able ser­vice and demon­strates our col­lec­tive ap­proach to ad­dress­ing the pan­demic and wel­com­ing back

riders,” BART Gen­eral Man­ager Robert Powers and lead­ers of BART’s three labor unions said in a joint state­ment.

Ap­prov­ing the con­tracts would also avert dif­fi­cult con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions. Mem­bers of the Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union, Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union and Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees have al­ready rat­i­fied the pacts. The unions rep­re­sent 3,261 work­ers: train op­er­a­tors, sta­tion agents, main­te­nance work­ers and me­chan­ics and a va­ri­ety of ad­min­is­tra­tive staff.

Avoid­ing strikes for the next three years would cap a decade of labor peace be­tween BART and its three ma­jor unions af­ter two ugly strikes in 2013. The unions walked off the job, stop­ping ser­vice in July and Oc­to­ber of that year af­ter in­tense bar­gain­ing ses­sions failed to bring the two sides to­gether.

The strikes caused Bay Areaw­ide grid­lock, with hour­long waits at the Bay Bridge and lengthy queues for trans­bay buses and fer­ries. Two man­agers were killed dur­ing the strike, struck by a train on a train­ing run, while stand­ing next to the tracks.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the strikes an­gered com­muters and led to calls — even­tu­ally un­suc­cess­ful — to ban strikes by BART work­ers. But in 2016, BART and its unions man­aged to do that on their own, reach­ing an agree­ment ahead of 2017 con­tract talks in an ef­fort to as­sure pas­sen­gers, and vot­ers con­sid­er­ing a Novem­ber bond mea­sure, that no strike was forth­com­ing.

The most re­cent ne­go­ti­a­tion started about 2½ months ago, said Michael Jones, BART’s deputy gen­eral man­ager, as BART be­gan to climb out of the deep rid­er­ship trough caused by the pan­demic and stay-home or­ders. In the early months of the pan­demic, rid­er­ship plunged to just 3% of prepan­demic lev­els.

The deal does not pre­clude lay­offs or fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions over cuts to avoid them, said Shana Dines, BART’s labor re­la­tions di­rec­tor. Last week, the BART board ap­proved an in­cen­tive plan to en­cour­age em­ploy­ees to re­tire. If the plan doesn’t at­tract enough ap­pli­cants, lay­offs could oc­cur or the unions could agree to other cuts to avoid them — any­thing from pay re­duc­tions to in­creased ben­e­fit con­tri­bu­tions to un­paid days off.

“Any­thing the unions want us to con­sider, we’ll dis­cuss,” Jones said.

Of­fi­cials from both BART and the unions called the agree­ment fair as well as a sign of their vastly im­proved re­la­tion­ship.

“It’s a fair deal for both sides,” said John Arantes, pres­i­dent of SEIU 1021, one of the three unions rep­re­sent­ing BART work­ers. “The con­ver­sa­tion we had with man­age­ment (cen­tered on) how can we make this so both sides are win­ning and how can the district be ready to spring back to full ser­vice when rid­er­ship comes back.”

Both sides worked to­gether, Dines said, with an eye to­ward mak­ing sure strife be­tween BART and its unions didn’t de­rail its re­cov­ery plan.

“We’ve had a re­ally great re­la­tion­ship with our unions,” she said. “It’s been get­ting bet­ter over the past few years but has es­pe­cially im­proved dur­ing the pan­demic. It was very ob­vi­ous that what was best for our union, for us and for our riders was to set­tle this early and fo­cus on re­cov­ery.”

BART board Pres­i­dent La­teefah Si­mon, a daily BART rider her­self, said she was proud of the agree­ment, which she called “an un­prece­dented mo­ment.”

“This is a new way of work­ing, and I’m re­ally ex­cited about it.” she said. “It’s not just that we got to this deal, but the work be­hind it. We all re­al­ized that man­age­ment and labor could and should work to­gether in a cri­sis.”

Di­rec­tor Debora Allen, how­ever, con­sid­ers the early con­tract im­pru­dent given the fi­nan­cial un­cer­tain­ties sur­round­ing the pan­demic and the re­cov­ery. She said she plans to vote no. BART faces deep deficits over the next 19 months, she said, ques­tion­ing the wis­dom of lock­ing in a con­tract that doesn’t re­duce ex­penses — or staffing.

While the ten­ta­tive con­tract doesn’t rule out lay­offs, Allen said, it fails to take ad­van­tage of the chance to re­duce the size of BART’s staff to an ap­pro­pri­ate level while rid­er­ship is low — about 13% of its pre­pan­demic level.

“Why now?” she said of the con­tract, which she ex­pects will pass. “Why are we bind­ing our­selves to this three­year deal now with so much un­cer­tainty?”

For BART’s union­ized work­ers to get raises in the 2023 and 2024 bud­get years, BART’s rid­er­ship will have to sharply re­bound. Pas­sen­gers take about 50,000 rides a day com­pared to 410,000 be­fore the shel­ter­in­place or­ders took ef­fect in mid­March. For pay in­creases to kick in, daily rid­er­ship will need to reach 246,000, 60% of the pre­pan­demic level. Em­ploy­ees would get a 0.4% raise if that hap­pens in 2023 and a 0.75% in­crease if it oc­curs in 2024. A rid­er­ship rise to 75%, or 307,500 pas­sen­gers, would yield a 1% raise in 2023 and 1.25% in 2024.

“Not ev­ery­one’s su­per happy but we know that it’s fair,” Arantes said of the con­tract, which was rat­i­fied by 93% of SEIU mem­bers vot­ing. “Peo­ple re­al­ized we’d have to make sac­ri­fices.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA