BART strike ends

Negotiators for two unions announced late Monday night that the four-day strike at San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is over.

“Tonight the hard working men and women who keep the Bay Area moving, can go back to work making BART the most efficient and successful system in the country,”
said John Arantes, BART Chapter President of SEIU Local 1021, whose members maintain and repair BART’s trains and equipment.

“We will go back to work and continue our efforts to keep the Bay Area moving,” said Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, whose members operate the trains and staff the stations.

According to a statement by Local 1021 the tentative agreement “prioritizes rider and worker safety” and provides a “reasonable raise.” The statement also said that the unions compromised on pension and health care costs and that the new work rules in the agreement “allow for innovation and input from workers.”

Union members will need to ratify the agreement before it becomes effective.

Management’s last-minute demand for work rule changes triggered the strike, which began on Friday, October 18.

The work rule demand came just when it appeared that the two sides had reached an agreement that could have avoided a strike.

Traditionally, the strike has been the key to workers’ power, but in this instance BART management seemed to be goading workers into going on strike, perhaps with the goal of either weakening or busting the unions.

BART’s strategy began to reveal itself six months ago when it hired Thomas Hock as a consultant to lead the negotiations.

According to the East Bay Express Hock had an anti-union history:

Last year, transit workers in Phoenix and Tempe staged a six-day strike against Veolia Transportation. Arizona’s cities have privatized their bus operations, and Veolia holds the contracts. Hock led his company’s campaign against its workers. It was a bruising fight that required the intervention of federal authorities.

In hearings before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Veolia was found to have engaged in “regressive, bad-faith, and surface bargaining,” and numerous other unfair labor practices prior to the Phoenix bus strike. Hock was in charge at the time.

When negotiations began, BART demanded big concessions even though ridership and revenue had increased.

Instead of engaging in serious collective bargaining, BART launched a sophisticated media campaign aimed at demonizing its union workers.

The results were predictable. No agreement was reached, and a four-day strike began in late June. It ended after a judge ordered a 60-day cooling off period, and the two sides returned to the bargaining table.

BART, however, continued its anti-union media campaign, and serious bargaining didn’t begin again until another strike deadline approached.

Some progress was made as both sides made compromises, but on Sunday, October 13, BART cut off negotiations, made a final last best offer, and told the unions to take it or leave it. BART’s actions appeared to be aimed at provoking a strike.

The unions refused the offer but instead of striking urged management to return to the bargaining table, which it did.

Three days later the two sides reached an agreement on economic issues, but just when the unions thought that they had a deal that they could take to their members, BART demanded work rule changes that it knew workers wouldn’t accept.

“The rules (that BART wanted to change) we’re focused on protecting basic (worker) rights,” said Pete Castelli ,executive director of Local 1021.  “Like the 8-hour workday.  Like past practice language that protect our workers from punishment and retribution when they report favoritism, sexual harassment, and other problems in the workplace.”

Some of the changes that BART demanded also involved the introduction of new technologies, some of which put the safety of workers and passengers at risk,

“After telling the public that their main goal at the bargaining table was saving money to buy new trains, BART management blew up negotiations by insisting that
employees sacrifice workplace protections in exchange for economic well-being,” said Castelli. “This was a poison pill for workers: choose between your paycheck and your
rights.”

The union sought to avert a strike by proposing that a final decision on these last-minute demands be left to a neutral arbitrator.

Management refused, forcing a strike on October 18 that shut down public commuter services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Improving safety for riders and workers had been one the unions’ priorities during negotiations, but management refused to take the issue seriously.

But a tragic accident on the day after the strike began drove home the importance the safety issues.

Two people inspecting BART tracks were killed when they were hit by a train being used to train management personnel to operate trains during the strike. A trainee was at the controls but, according to the San Jose Mercury News, the train was on autopilot when the accident occurred.

A day after the accident, the unions made a counter proposal to end the strike.

According to the unions’ statement:

The new counter proposal allows for the continued use of new technology in the workplace but protects workers from changes in work rules that would lead to unsafe conditions.

At the same time, BART workers say, they will insist on retaining work rules protect their members from workplace accidents, like the one that occurred yesterday, and that safeguard the riding public.

The accident appears to have caused BART management to take the safety issues more seriously, and the two sides reached an agreement a day after the unions made their counter proposal.

Details about the agreement that settled the strike have not been made public;, but union leaders said that the agreement addresses the safety issues.

“We are proud to bring a tentative agreement that prioritizes rider and worker safety to our members for a vote,” said Des Patten, president of Local1021’s BART Professional Chapter. (The agreement) preserves important workplace protections that enable workers to continue working with management to improve a rapidly growing system.”

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