Panel Hears from BART About Contract Talks

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - The Bay Area Rapid Transit agency's general manager says BART and its unions remain far apart on a contract deal.

Grace Crunican testified on Wednesday before a three-member board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to investigate the contract dispute between BART and its unions. Brown ordered the investigation on Sunday, with a strike that threatened to snarl Monday morning's commute looming.

The board was given seven days to submit its findings to the governor, who can then petition a court to call a 60-day cooling off period in the negotiations.

Union representatives are scheduled to testify later in the day.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A special board is preparing to gather information about a contentious dispute between Bay Area Rapid Transit and its labor unions, while an East Bay transit agency reached an 11th-hour deal with its workers to avoid a strike.

The board is holding a hearing Wednesday in Oakland after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered an investigation into the long and difficult BART talks, averting a strike that threatened to snarl Monday morning's commute.

The hearing will likely include presentations from BART and the unions, questions from the three board members, and public comment, and the board is expected to report its findings to Brown no later than Sunday night, said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.

The report will explain BART's and the unions' positions but will not find fault or issue a recommendation. The governor could then petition a court to call a 60-day cooling-off period, Westrup said.

Meanwhile, the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District reached a tentative agreement with its employees late Tuesday, avoiding a strike that would have affected about 180,000 passengers who use its buses to get around the East Bay region every day.

The deal, which still has to be ratified by the rank-and-file, gives about 1,800 drivers, dispatchers, and maintenance and clerical workers a 9.5 percent raise over the course of the three-year deal, and employees would contribute to their medical benefits, according to a statement from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192.

The union had vowed to go on strike at midnight if a deal wasn't reached.

"Obviously we're extremely gratified that we got to this point without a disruption in service," said AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson.

The BART dispute resulted in a 4 1/2-day strike last month and is threatening another one that could strand many of BART's estimated 400,000 daily riders as soon as next week. The parties continue to squabble over wages, pension and employees' health care contribution.

BART spokesman Rick Rice said Tuesday that he expects the governor to make a decision "very, very quickly" after receiving the special board's report.

Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, one of two unions in talks with BART, said they are disappointed that the board is convening at all.

"This could've and should've been resolved more than a month ago on June 30," Bryant said. "We should not have gone to a 30-day extension and then another seven days. (BART) should've settled it."

Rice said the parties are discussing returning to the bargaining table Thursday, however, and may continue talking through the weekend, if necessary.

"If we can reach an agreement before then, there won't be a need for the governor's recommendation," Rice said.

BART employees represented by ATU and the local Service Employees International Union average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. They pay nothing toward their pensions and a $92-a-month flat fee for health insurance, according to BART.


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