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No BART strike for now as 2 unions send contract proposal to members for vote

Agreement comes just 1 hour before midnight deadline with trains to keep running at least through next week

Leaders of BART's two largest labor unions say they will have their members vote on management's contract offer but the leader of a third union says she needs more information before she calls for a vote.

After a marathon round of negotiations, Larry Gerber, the chief negotiator of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, and Jesse Hunt, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said late Thursday night that they will have their members vote on the contract offer sometime next week.

Speaking to reporters outside the negotiation site at 2201 Valley St. in downtown Oakland, Gerber said he thinks management's offer "is not very good" but he wants to give his members a chance to vote on it.

Hunt said he also believes "it's not a good offer."

Gerber said if union members vote to reject the offer, union leaders will then ask Gov. Schwarzenegger to declare a 60-day cooling off period in the lengthy and bitter contract talks, which began on April 1 and have been assisted by state mediators the past two weeks.

Gerber expressed frustration with the negotiations, saying, "We continue to go round and round with the district" and alleging that management wants to "rob Peter to pay Paul."

SEIU Local 1021 represents about 1,400 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees while ATU Local 1555 represents about 900 train operators.

Jean Hamilton, the president of Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 200 middle managers, said early today, "I don't believe we can take management's offer to our members yet" because management hasn't provided all the information she wants about costs and other topics.

Hamilton said, "I continue to be disappointed in management's lack of details," adding, "It's hard to recommend the offer when you don't have enough information to explain it."

Although an agreement wasn't reached before the unions' contract expired at midnight Thursday, BART spokesman Linton Johnson looked on the bright side.

"It looks like the unions have accepted an offer from us on the table which preserves their salaries and also helps us achieve the $100 million in labor cost savings that we were seeking," Johnson said.

He said management's offer calls for employees to contribute more of the cost of their health care and retirement benefits and also eliminates work rules that he believes are costly and inefficient.

Johnson said management's proposal calls for employees to have their wages frozen for three years and then get a small raise in the fourth and final year of their new contract.

Hunt said that although the two largest unions will vote on management's proposal, they also presented a counteroffer to have a shorter two-year contract that would include $60 million in labor cost savings as well as $700 million in medical cost savings.

Hunt said the two unions are waiting for management's response to their proposal, but Johnson said their offer is "a moot point" and management won't look at it until after the unions vote on management's proposal.

Johnson said he hopes the unions won't consider going on strike while they vote on management's proposal but he said that's up to the unions.

"We want them to come to work" and do their jobs without a contract while the voting takes place, Johnson said.

In addition to the three large unions that represent most BART employees, there also are two small unions that represent BART police officers and managers.

However, the members of the police unions are barred from going on strike.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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