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BART board VP says trains won't run if strike is called

Calls on transit union, management negotiators to 'sit down and hash out an agreement'

BART board vice president James Fang said last night that management is prepared to return to the bargaining table around the clock to avoid a strike scheduled to begin Monday morning.

At a briefing near BART's former headquarters building above the Lake Merritt station in Oakland, which is in the process of being torn down, Fang said a strike would be "debilitating" and management wants to "sit down and hash out an agreement" rather than get into a confrontation with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators, station agents and power workers.

Fang said, "I respect Jesse Hunt," who is the union's president and business agent, and "I have no rancor toward ATU."

He said, "We hope we can reach an accord before Sunday."

Hunt said at a late afternoon news conference at his union's headquarters a block away that it will go on strike at the end of service Sunday night.

Hunt announced the labor action after BART board members voted 9-0 earlier in the day to impose pay and work rules on the union, effective immediately.

Two other BART unions voted earlier this week to approve management's contract offer but their leaders say they will respect picket lines if ATU Local 1555 goes on strike.

The other unions are Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents about 1,500 mechanics, custodians, safety inspectors and clerical employees, and American Federation of Local, State and Municipal Employees Union Local 3993, which represents about 200 middle managers.

Referring to ATU Local 1555, Fang said, "We didn't ask them to strike" but he said management decided to unilaterally impose terms and conditions of employment today because the union's members have voted twice to reject contract offers.

Fang said BART board members don't want a work stoppage at any time but if there has to be a strike it's better to have it in August than in September, when more people use the transit system to get to work and when people will rely on BART to get in and out of San Francisco while the Bay Bridge is closed for seismic work for four days over the Labor Day weekend.

Hunt said his union decided to go on strike as "a matter of fairness and equity" because management's contract proposal calls for it to face "an unfair burden" compared to the other unions.

But Fang said the cost-cutting measures that management is proposing for ATU Local 1555 are proportional to their size.

He said he thinks the union actually has played a disproportionately large role at BART, saying that it accounted for half of the transit agency's overtime costs last year even though it only represents one-fourth of its workforce.

About two-thirds of ATU Local 1555's 900 members voted on Monday to reject management's contract offer.

Fang said, "To have 600 people muck it up and dictate if people get to work seems to be self-centered."

Fang said BART doesn't plan to run trains on Monday if its workers go on strike.

"We can't run the trains for reasons of safety and experience," he said.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson, who joined Fang at the briefing, said the transit agency currently carries about 340,000 passengers a day on weekdays, which comes to about 180,000 daily riders.

Fang said BART board members just learned today in "a pretty shocking report" that ridership has declined 11 percent in recent months to the 340,000 level.

He said, "BART has to stop the bleeding" and its goal is to achieve $100 million in labor cost savings in the next four years to help deal with its projected $310 million budget shortfall in that time span.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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