BART unions headed back to negotiations today after a frustrating Friday with negotiators for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) district not showing up to negotiate, said Antonette Bryant, president of BART's Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555.
She said union representatives waited as long as 11 hours for representatives of BART's elected board, who then managed to hold a public hearing in the BART board chambers at which they didn't address contract proposals.
Union representatives headed to BART headquarters this morning with their suitcases packed, ready to stay until a new contract is negotiated and avert a strike.
The issues separating the two sides remain the "phony" budget deficit pushed by BART's elected directors, which began at $3 billion in March and has ballooned to $15 billion today, Bryant said.
"BART has a surplus, not a deficit," said Bryant, whose union represents more than 900 train operators, station agents and other frontline operations personnel.
"After four years of 0-0-0-0 under an imposed wage freeze, we're asking for a 5-5-5 percent raise for the next three years and increased health and safety measures to protect workers and riders from a rising wave of assaults and injuries on BART."
The unions sued BART on Monday for Unfair Labor Practices, citing numerous instances of BART consultants simply refusing to offer reasonable proposals or even to respond to ones the unions have made. They are hoping that the law suit, plus public pressure to keep the trains running, will force BART back to the negotiating table to reach an agreement by midnight on June 30.
"We run this system with pride and efficiency," Bryant said. "Revenues are up. Ridership is at record levels. Trains are running at better than 95% on time record. This system works, and we're the people who make it work."
"All we want is a raise that keeps up with the cost of living of the Bay Area, and health and safety regulations that protect workers and riders," she added.
Friday, in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, Bryant urged him to declare a 60-day "Cooling Off" period to give more time for BART management and union leaders to "sit down and seriously negotiate a contract" to avert a possible transit strike here on Monday.
Bryant's letter follows:
"Last night we notified your (BART management)representatives of our intention to strike as of Monday, July 1. This was a not a decision that was made lightly. It comes after months of frustration with your negotiating team whose members have dismissed every important proposal we've made about salaries, pensions and health and safety by saying nothing more than 'No,' or 'We're not interested.'
"We owe it to the people who rely on BART and the people of the San Francisco Bay Area to be honest and fair with each other and work out a contract on time. We have done everything we can. and will continue to do everything we can, to sign a fair, equitable contract that honors BART's frontline workers for the job they do and that helps sustain the high quality of this great transit system.
"But since April 1, it's been clear that these 'negotiations' were never about negotiating to you. They were about politics. As you do every four years, you hire high priced consultants to run a vicious political attack campaign against your own workforce, distorting our salaries, denigrating our work, and running down this great system for your political advantage by fabricating a phony budget crisis that everyone but you is supposed to pay for.
"This time you've gone too far. We have made numerous proposals to you during these 'negotiations' about addressing serious safety and health issues on this system that impact the lives of thousands of BART workers and riders. Batteries against station agents have quadrupled since your 2009 hiring freeze. Almost 1,000 BART workers and patrons have been physically attacked in the past three years.
"The number of assaults on the system in the first four months alone of this year is as high as all of last year. Station agents have been punched, pushed down stairways, assaulted by gangs, robbed, threatened and spit on. Train operators are facing an increasing number of traumatic events on the lines.
"We have repeatedly made serious, concrete, and affordable recommendations to address these challenges. Your response? To quote your part-time $400,000 part-time negotiator, 'we're not interested.' Only yesterday did you agree to 'discuss' these issues, sometime in the future.
"Finally, BART has a surplus, not a deficit. You can't cover that up. In just the past four months the amount of your phony budget 'deficit' (as phony as the deficit you claimed in 2009) has fluctuated from $3 billion, to $5 billion, to $7 billion, to $10 billion, and this week to $15 billion.
"This is a political budget, not a fiscal one. It's impossible to negotiate using rubber numbers that keep bouncing around with your political whims. These numbers aren't real, they're your projections.
"Just as bad, you continue to publicly smear your own work force by averaging in our salaries and benefits with those of your General Manager and other executives, whose compensation is $400,000 and higher.
"We don't make $134,000 as your website claims. As a Station Agent with 20 years experience, my salary is $61,000. Were I to retire today, my pension would be $21,000 a year, and I'm not eligible for Social Security. And our pensions are not breaking this system. BART's pension system is 92% funded, an envy of many in the business.
"You know all this (you can confirm it at http://www.wemakebartwork.com/bart-facts/). Yet you continue to hide behind your high-priced consultants and refuse to negotiate in good faith.
"It's impossible to reach a negotiated settlement beginning with numbers based on politics rather than reality. BART today has a massive budget surplus. Your own analysts project a $125 million surplus for years to come.
"This is why we've declared a strike, and asked Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. to officially declare a 60-day 'Cooling Off' period so we can sit down and seriously negotiate a contract. All we want is fair compensation and a safe workplace. We will continue to do everything we can to reach a negotiated settlement by the deadline, and call upon you to do the same. We owe that to BART's riders, and the people of the Bay Area."