BART managers, union leaders trade barbs over contract talks

With only two weeks before deadline, larger unions want negotiations extended

BART management and union leaders traded barbs today with only two weeks remaining before the contract for the transit agency's five labor unions expires.

The leaders of BART's three largest unions said more time is likely necessary to reach a new labor agreement and accused the transit agency's executives of asking riders and employees to suffer the consequences of their financial mismanagement.

Jean Hamilton, the president of Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said in a statement, "BART executives are trying to sell the idea that the only way to close their budget gap is to raise fares and take away job and retirement security from employees."

Hamilton said, "We keep raising their wasteful spending habits and identifying strategies to avoid financial challenges in the future. But they only seem interested in raising fares and reducing job security."

Lisa Isler, the president of the BART chapter of Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said, "In just the period since we started negotiations on April 1, BART executives have announced plans to spend $7 billion on new trains and $500 million on the Oakland Airport connector project."

Isler said, "It's hard to take their cries of budget crisis seriously when they aren't willing to change the reasons they are in trouble in the first place."

Jesse Hunt, the president of Local 1555 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), said, "We're likely to need more time unless the district suddenly starts moving faster than they have been so far."

Hunt said, "While BART executives are blaming employees in the media, we have detailed records that show how many times they delayed meetings and postponed deadlines."

But BART spokesman Linton Johnson said BART unions have yet to agree to a single major cost saving proposal designed to help close the agency's $250 million deficit over the next four years.

General Manager Dorothy Dugger said in a statement issued by Johnson, "The public and our ridership want and expect us to get this done by July 1."

Dugger said, "That's when BART riders will start paying more in fares. It's only right that all BART employees - union and non-union - work together to address this deficit and agree to new contracts that will prevent further fare hikes, cuts in service and layoffs."

Dugger said BART's management has offered a number of proposals to union leaders that could cut $100 million in costs, including increased employee contributions to their pension plan, the elimination of their secondary retirement plans and the reform of work rules, which she said are expensive and wasteful.

"We've been at this since April 1," Dugger said. "The unions have had plenty of time to decide what makes the best sense for them and their members. The tough choices need to be made now."

Johnson said BART's finances will suffer further if contract talks are extended past the June 30 deadline.

He said the district will incur up to an additional $1 million in negotiating costs if talks extend an additional 60 days past and every day past the deadline will add about $70,000 to the overall deficit.

Although the two sides have been busy blaming each other for the slow pace of contract talks, they are still finding time to meet at the bargaining table.

SEIU Local 1021 Carols Rivera said there were contract talks Monday and today and future sessions also are scheduled.

However, Rivers said he's not sure how many negotiation sessions have been held and union leaders think there should have been more sessions by this point.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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