Judge orders 60-day cooling off period in SF Bay labor dispute

A judge in San Francisco on August 11 ordered Bay Area Rapid Transit workers not to strike for 60 days. Members of two unions representing maintenance and operations staff were prepared to walk off the job at Midnight, August 12 if the unions and BART management could not reach agreement on a new contract.

California Gov. Jerry Brown had asked the judge to issue the 60-day cooling off order.

Gov. Brown late last week had said that he would seek the cooling off order after a board of investigation that he had appointed to gather information about the contract negotiations held hearings and reported that the unions and BART management were not close to resolving the issues that prevented a new agreement.

BART management the week before the judge issued his ordered had urged Gov. Brown to seek the 60-day cooling off period.

The unions had urged Gov. Brown not to do so.

Leo Ruiz, a negotiator for ATU Local 1555, which represents operations workers, told the San Jose Mercury News that BART management will use the 60-day cooling off period to continue its stalling tactics in hopes that public pressure will force union members to accept concessions sought by management.

Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU Local 1021, which represents maintenance and repair workers, told the Mercury News that BART management has failed “to make meaningful proposals” that could lead to a fair agreement.

John Logan, an assistant professor and director of labor studies at San Francisco State, reports that BART’s negotiating strategy from the beginning has been a classic example of “surface bargaining”–going through the motions of bargaining with no intention of reaching an agreement.

From the beginning, Logan writes, BART has not shown an interest in real bargaining. BART delayed opening negotiations until mid-May instead of April as the unions requested.

The delaying tactics forced a four-day strike in June. After local and state official intervened, union members returned to work and agreed to continue bargaining for 30 days.

During that 30-day period, BART’s chief negotiator, Tom Hock, a consultant hired by BART to lead its negotiating team, was absent for one-third of the negotiating period.

Antonette Bryant, president of Local 1555, told the San Francisco Chronicle that BART has been unresponsive to proposals offered by the union.

“All we get are rejections with no explanations or counterproposals,” said Bryant.

Instead of serious bargaining, contends Logan, BART has tried to bargain through the media, and in doing so has vilified its workers by misstating facts.

According to three state legislators who attended a hearing held by Gov. Brown’s board of investigators, information was presented during the hearing showing that BART in public statements about the negotiations has consistently overstated the average pay for BART workers in an attempt to show the public that the workers are greedy.

“The figure given for average BART worker pay has been $79,500. But that figure includes management pay. BART’s own documents given to the panel show train operators earn less than $63,000 and station agents earn $64,000 on average,” said Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, and Bill Quirk in a joint statement released after the hearing. “In addition, we learned that workers have offered to significantly increase contributions to pensions and employee medical.”

With a cost of living index of 163.4, San Francisco has the fourth highest cost of living in the US, topped only by Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Honolulu.

Despite the obstacles raised by BART, union leaders said that they would continue to bargain in hopes of averting a strike in October when the 60-day cooling off period ends.

If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement, BART would unable to extend the 60-day cooling off period because state law provides for only one court-ordered cooling off period, making another strike in October possible.

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