Brown orders last minute inquiry to avoid BART strike

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Update 11:50 p.m.: Brown orders last minute inquiry to avoid BART strike

With an eleventh hour order, Gov. Jerry Brown averted a strike of San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit system late Sunday night, easing the minds of hundreds of thousands of anxious commuters.

In the order, Brown named a board of investigators for a seven-day inquiry into the contract dispute that threatened to shut down, beginning Monday, one of the region's major train lines.

Brown's order comes under a law that allows the state's intervention if a strike will significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger public health.

"For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge — in the strongest terms possible — the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved," Brown said in the order.

In a statement, BART spokesman Rick Rice said the transit authority's board president Tom Radulovich sent a letter to the governor requesting his intervention and a cooling off period of 60 days. The governor issued an order with considerably less time of a week.

"The formal impartial fact-finding that accompanies the cooling-off period will help clarify the points of difference between the proposals," the statement said.

Union leaders issued a critical statement after the order, accusing BART management negotiators of stalling until only hours remained before the strike would have begun to provide counter proposals on core pay and benefits.

"Our hope is that the Governor's Board of Investigation will reveal how little time BART management has spent at the bargaining table in the past 30 days, compared with how much time they've spent posturing to the media," said SEIU 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez.

Bay Area Rapid Transit managers and union leaders had returned to the bargaining table Sunday in hopes of heading off a strike that would have affected 400,000 commuters and created traffic nightmares for the San Francisco area for the second time in a month.

Representatives from BART management and the agency's two largest employee unions negotiated for about 14 hours Saturday and resumed bargaining Sunday morning as a midnight deadline loomed. Brown's order came at around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Update 5:05 p.m.: Midnight strike deadline approaches for SF BART labor talks

Bay Area Rapid Transit managers and union leaders are back at the bargaining table in hopes of heading off a strike that would create traffic nightmares for San Francisco area commuters for the second time in a month.

Representatives from BART management and the agency's two largest employee unions negotiated for about 14 hours yesterday and resumed bargaining this morning as a midnight deadline looms.

Big differences remain on key issues including wages, pensions, worker safety and health care costs, but the parties have expressed some optimism that an agreement could be reached to avert a strike planned for Monday.

KQED reported a hastily-scheduled press conference by the union representing Bay Area transit workers was just as hastily cancelled Sunday afternoon. 

The station offers a summary of the negotiation sticking points: 

Pay: Unions are seeking a substantial raise after agreeing to a wage freeze in their 2009 contract. Their opening position was 23 percent over four years. It's unknown what their current proposals might be, but BART has said in the past few days that it has stuck to an 8 percent raise over the four-year term of the new contract—compared to an opening position of 4 percent.
Pensions: Most BART union employees currently pay nothing into their pensions. BART said in a recent statement it wants them to pay 5 percent of their salaries into their pension plan and that the unions are seeking to hold the contribution to 3 percent.
Medical benefits: BART's union employees currently pay $92 a month for medical insurance, regardless of how many people are covered in an employee's policy. BART says it's seeking to get workers to cover 10 percent of the monthly cost of their plans and that the unions want to continue paying a flat rate.
Unions have also sought unspecified improvements in safety procedures for station workers, train operators, and maintenance personnel.
Citing a gag order on negotiations, the unions have not released details of their current proposals for pensions or medical benefits.

Bay Area agencies are preparing ways to get commuters to work if there's a strike, but officials say there's no way to make up for the BART system, which carries about 400,000 riders a day.


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