BART Board Approves 5-Year Labor Contract Preventing Strikes Until 2021

BART Board Approves 5-Year Labor Contract Preventing Strikes Until 2021
May 12, 2016 2:51 PM
Filed Under: BART, BART BOARD, Labor Contract, Oakland

Passengers wait to board a BART train.

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A five-year labor contract with BART’s major unions was approved Thursday, a year before the current contract expires, in an effort to avoid another round of acrimonious negotiations at a time when BART officials are looking to rebuild the system infrastructure and planning to ask voters to approve a $3.5 billion bond.

BART made the surprising announcement last month that it had reached tentative agreements with its biggest labor unions, granting its 3,300 workers a 10.5 percent raise over the next five years.

The contract is similar to one reached in 2013 after BART workers staged two strikes that crippled Bay Area transportation. BART’s board of directors and union leaders Thursday hailed the early agreement as evidence that BART had moved beyond the toxic state of its relationship with its employees to a far more productive one.

“It was not a contract that the unions thought was great, but it is a contract that is great for all of us in healing,” Service Employees International Union Local 1021 BART chapter president John Arantes said.

Neither side got exactly what it wanted. BART director Gail Murray pointed out the wage increases may not even cover the skyrocketing cost of living in the area, and not everyone on the board agreed with all of the contract provisions. Two board members, Zakhary Mallett and Joel Keller, voted against it.

Mallett said his feeling was that the public was opposed to the agreement. While he thinks the wage increases are reasonable, he said the contract leaves in place wasteful spending in benefit packages that he estimates will cost $50 million over the life of the contract.

“This is just extending a bad contract,” Mallett said. “I wish that we have done a more thorough negotiation.”

Keller said he was conflicted and wasn’t sure how he would vote just a few minutes prior to casting it.

He said he agreed with many things about the contract but has concerns about whether the economy, and BART’s revenue, will be able to sustain its costs. Ridership may dip after years of growth, sales tax revenue has shown signs of declining, and the Bay Area economy might not maintain its current level of prosperity.

But board President Tom Radulovich called the 2013 contract “a pretty robust agreement” that he said has worked well over the past few years.

Radulovich said BART’s budget concerns go far beyond the cost of the labor contract, and cuts to wages and benefits would do little to contribute to the billions it will cost to rebuild BART’s aging infrastructure.

The agency is still hurting from cuts to state and federal assistance that came during the recent economic downturn. Meanwhile, Radulovich said BART’s system, with many components built in the 1970s, is “beyond its useful life.”

Several projects are already in place to reconstruct the BART system, including an order of new train cars that have already begun arriving and are expected to enter service by the end of the year.

But BART is also looking to replace miles of track and upgrade its train control systems to a much more modern system that will allow it to run trains more frequently and efficiently. For that massive capital investment, the board is planning on placing a $3.5 billion bond measure on November’s ballot.

Radulovich and other board members characterized the early labor agreement as an effort to avoid a labor dispute so workers and the board alike can focus on the necessary capital improvements.

To questions that the agreement was a “gimmick” designed to create public goodwill ahead of the bond measure’s introduction, Radulovich said the infrastructure improvements need to happen regardless.

“Whether the bond passes or not, we’re going to have a lot to think about in 2017,” he said.

The contract guarantees there will be no strikes at least until 2021, but Murray said she has received criticism for not fighting for a no-strike clause in the labor agreement. To negotiate for such a clause could have created months of strikes itself, she said.

“Having the ability to strike is one of the most powerful tools that unions have and they are not going to give that up without a long, hard struggle,” Murray said.

The state Legislature would have to intervene to take away that right.

BART, labor unions agree to four-year contract
Bay Area Rapid Transit passengers wait for a BART train to depart the Fruitvale station in Oakland. (Ben Margot/2013 AP)
May 12, 2016 3:16 pm

Labor peace will reign at BART, at least for another five years.

That’s the length of the contract between BART and its major unions, which was approved Thursday morning by the BART Board of Directors in a 7-2 vote, with directors Joel Keller and Zakhary Mallett dissenting.

The ratification of the labor agreement will allow BART to focus on its more pressing issues, directors said, like its dwindling capital budget and overstuffed train cars.

The sides reached tentative deals last month, which extends the current contract from 2017 until 2021 with minimal changes for inflation and averted riders’ biggest fear — another strike.

At the meeting, BART General Manager Grace Crunican told the board, “This agreement means we can all do our work over the next five years and focus on the improvements of the system.”

BART Board of Directors Vice President Gail Murray introduced the motion to ratify the contract. She said that despite people’s complaints that “we pay too much,” the amount of money in the contract is less than what California has estimated as a true cost of living increase.

The contract stipulates a 2.5 percent wage increase for BART workers in 2017 and 2018, and a 2.75 percent wage increase in 2019 and 2020. Pension negotiations would be delayed to a later time, due to pending litigation.

Outside the meeting, local SEIU President John Arantes said his members “weighed getting a lower raise with getting this resolved, and improving relationships.”

Murray also said the board would not try to eliminate BART workers’ ability to strike.

“They’re not going to give that up without a long, hard struggle,” she said of potential additional strikes. “We’re giving the legislature five years of labor peace.”

Director Zakhary Mallett said BART was wasting money on employee benefits.

Cleanliness is a major problem in stations, he said, and to address it “you need more workers. If what I have to pay for workers is astronomical (in comparison) to the market, I can’t hire.”

Refuting Mallett, Board of Directors President Tom Radulovich said slashing worker wages and benefits won’t help BART, because operating budgets are separate from capital budgets – and BART’s deficiencies are in capital investment.

Even if BART employees “worked for free,” it wouldn’t help, he said.

Joel Keller, a BART director representing Contra Costa County, said he was “troubled” by the contract, which adds 19 percent to a $400 million deficit at BART, he said. BART staff made a lot of “assumptions” in their budget analysis, he said.

He said, “I fear there are lots of signs” of a bad economy coming in the Bay Area, and reminded directors of the last “dot com bust.”

BART directors OK extending contracts with unions
By Michael Cabanatuan
Updated 8:15 am, Friday, May 13, 2016

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) passengers walk off of a train in San Francisco.

BART directors approved labor agreements with the transit agency’s three largest unions Thursday — a move to assure passengers and voters that no strike is forthcoming.
The Board of Directors voted 7-2, with Directors Zakhary Mallett and Joel Keller opposed, to approve the agreements, which extend current contracts, set to expire in 2017, until 2021. The extension comes with raises of 2.5 percent the first two years of the contract and 2.75 percent the last two years. The cost of the extensions is $85.9 million over four years, about $15 million more than the transit system had projected to spend.
Mallett opposed the agreement because, he said, it put off dealing with important issues, including benefits. Keller said he was concerned about whether BART could afford the cost of the contracts.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Service Employees International Union, and American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees locals that represent most BART workers ratified the agreements earlier this week.
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @ctuan

The first of 775 new BART cars is on its way to the Bay Area, being shipped across the country on a flatbed truck.