BART Talks Come to an End as Union Approves Contract

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Members of BART's second-largest labor union voted Tuesday evening to ratify a tentative contract, ending talks that nearly led to a systemwide strike in mid-August.

The four-year deal, which will likely be approved by the BART Board of Directors in September, fulfils the agency's goal of cutting $100 million in labor costs to help offset a deficit that has ballooned since negotiations began.

"I think we can begin to focus our energy back on running our system again," said BART Director Bob Franklin.

Officials from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which twice rejected proposed contracts before approving the latest deal, could not be reached for comment.

In a move that would have had a crippling effect on transportation in the Bay Area, the union's President Jesse Hunt announced that members would strike beginning Aug. 17 after the board imposed contract terms on the union. However, last-ditch talks gave the two sides enough time to come to a tentative agreement on the evening before the strike.

Much like the previous proposals, the approved contract includes a salary freeze, a cap on medical benefits-requiring members to pay extra for more coverage-and the elimination of "wasteful work rules," an option that the union's leaders have said would disproportionately affect its members.

While BART officials expressed relief following the recent announcement, the negotiating process itself-which continued nearly two months past deadline-has cost BART well over $2 million. The agency's four-year deficit now stands at $310 million.

BART and its three major unions are also considering revisiting benefits. The two sides will soon begin discussing a union-backed proposal to increase the eligibility period needed to receive retirement health coverage. The proposal would require employees,

including management, to work for 15 years rather than the current five years before receiving retirement coverage.

The proposal was not included in any contracts partially because a 15-year eligibility period is not allowed under BART's current agreement with the organization that provides its employees with their retirement coverage.

Jean Hamilton, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993, said the proposal could be a long-term financial benefit, citing that BART management frequently work fewer years than other employees but retire with complete health coverage.

BART spokesperson Linton Johnson refuted Hamilton's argument and said in an e-mail that lower-level employees also come to the agency and retire shortly thereafter with benefits.

But Franklin said BART often hires management who have specialized and worked extensively in other fields and that members of the major unions tend to work at BART longer.

"It probably would affect management more than station agents or train operators," he said.


Zach A. Williams is the assistant city news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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