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

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.”


BART workers end strike, negotiations continue

Unions representing workers at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which serves the Oakland-San Francisco area, and BART management agreed to end a four-day strike that began July 1.

The two sides accepted a mediator’s request that BART operations resume while the two sides continue to negotiate a new agreement. Workers will continue to work under the terms of a contract that expired June 30. A deadline of August 4 has been set for the new round of negotiations.

“We are happy to be back to work moving the Bay Area, but we do so knowing that BART management has raised hypocrisy to a whole new level,” said Pete Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, which represents 1,430 BART mechanics and maintenance workers. “Management has spent taxpayer money on themselves like they were Wall Street bankers! While BART General Manager Grace Crunican pays herself $320,000 a year, she refuses to adjust employee compensation to simply keep up with the cost of living here in the Bay Area.”

Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, which represents 945 train operators, station agents, and other operations workers, said that her union out of concern for the riding public was willing to return to work and to negotiations in order to make “a last ditch effort” at reaching an agreement. But she also said that the two sides remain far apart.

Both unions question whether BART is serious about reaching a fair agreement and point to its hiring of an anti-union labor consultant to lead BART’s negotiating as proof.

“We regret that BART’s high-paid, out-of-state negotiators did not share (our) commitment to our communities,” said Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU 1021. “They chose to stall and bargain through the media, consequently leaving hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents stranded and costing our local economy hundreds of millions of dollars.”

BART workers have gone four years without a pay raise, but management insists that the new contract include only modest pay raises and higher worker contributions to their health care plan and pension.

Management justifies its concessionary demands by saying that the country’s fifth largest transportation authority needs to make capital improvements that could cost as much as $15 billion over the next 20 years, and to raise the necessary capital, it needs to keep labor costs down.

The unions argue that BART workers already have made plenty of sacrifices. BART workers have not received a pay raise in four years. During that period, the cost of living has increased by 11 percent in a region that is one of the most expensive places to live in the US.

While BART workers’ wages were frozen, BART’s operating revenue increased by 15 percent, and its sales tax revenue by 24 percent.

Instead of asking workers to make more sacrifices, SEIU 1021 in a statement about the strike said that “Wall Street banksters, those who crashed our economy, stole our pensions, and invented new ways to manipulate the market to continue to rob our communities, must pay to fix what they have wrecked.”

In addition to resisting concessions, union members want to make BART safer for the riding public and workers.

During the last three years, 2,400 serious crimes have been committed in five train stations and more than 1,000 passengers and 100 BART workers have suffered physical attacks.

Before going on strike, the unions said that management was not taking its passenger and worker safety concerns seriously and filed an unfair labor practices suit charging BART with refusing to bargain over safety issues.

Safety isn’t the only issue that BART negotiators seem unwilling to address. In fact, union leaders have accused BART of “surface bargaining”–going through the motions without bargaining seriously.

As an example, they point to BART’s actions just prior to the July 1 strike. Mediators on the Friday before the strike happened requested that union negotiators wait in the bargaining room for a new proposal from BART that could avoid a strike. Union negotiators waited for 36 hours, but the BART negotiating team never showed up.

BART’s take-or-leave-it stance isn’t unexpected. Before negotiations began, BART paid Thomas Hock, a labor consultant, $399,000 to lead its negotiating team.  Hock, who works for Veolia Transportation, has a reputation for union busting and a history of strained relationships with workers whom he has managed.

“BART management has spent a million dollars of taxpayer money paying consultants to pursue a union busting strategy based on the tactics of what anti-labor forces have done in the Midwest over the last several years.” said Castelli. “But we have news for them: the Bay Area will stand up for working people.”

NYC School bus employees strike enters second week; Mayor Bloomberg remains MIA

New York City school bus employees and their employers on January 28 resumed talks in an attempt to settle a strike affecting 150,000 New York City students and their families. Michael Cordiello, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, the employees’ union, said that the talks were a step in the right direction but that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg needed to get involved in the talks.

The mayor has refused to do so and has said that the dispute is between the companies and the union.

However, both sides agree that it was a decision by the mayor that sparked the strike and without his involvement a resolution will be difficult if not impossible.

The school bus drivers and matrons, aides who help drivers of special needs children, went on strike on January 16 after Mayor Bloomberg announced in December that school bus companies will no longer be required to comply with Employee Protection Provision when they bid on contracts for school bus routes set to expire in July 2013.

The Employee Protection Provision (EPP), which governs all school bus route contracts in New York City, is a master seniority list that companies must use when hiring drivers and matrons. Without the EPP, companies will be able to hire anyone off the street with little or no experience.

“The point of the Employee Protection Provision is to create an incentive for people to stay in the (school bus transportation) industry, so that you create an experienced workforce that can safely deliver kids to school instead of a low-wage, high-turnover transient workforce,” said Richard Gilberg, Local 1181’s attorney.

Experienced drivers and matrons are especially important for the school bus routes that serve 50,000 special needs children. These workers serve a wide range of children with physical and mental disabilities, many of whom require special care while they are traveling between school and home.

The school bus routes that will come up for bid in July affect 22,500 special needs children.

The mayor contends that he hopes to rein costs by eliminating EPP.

But Gilberg said that the mayor has presented no evidence that EPP increases costs and suggests that the EPP may actually hold down expenses by reducing turnover, which lowers training costs and improves productivity.

“The union doesn’t mind if the mayor wants to put the contracts up for competitive bid,” Gilberg said. “If you can save money by cutting profits of the middlemen–the company owners–God bless. (But) don’t take it out on the backs of people who make $13, $14, $15 an hour carrying kids in wheelchairs.”

Two of those people referred to by Gilberg are Vic and Lucy DiBetetto, who work as a driver and matron respectively. They were interviewed by Denis Hamill of the New York Post.

During her 12 years as a matron, Lucy DiBetetto, who is trained in CPR, has become an adept care giver to children with autism, MS, and other disabilities who ride her bus. For this, she is paid $15 an hour.

Vic, who has driven a bus for special needs children for nine years makes $22 an hour. Together they bring home about $53,000 a year, not a lot to live on in a high-expense city like New York.

“Listen, we’re not asking for some huge raise here,” said Vic to Hamill. “We’re only asking for security for our jobs and pensions. I’m in my 50s. I wanna hold onto my $35,000-a-year job and make sure I have a pension. Does this make us the bad guys Bloomberg’s making us out to be?”

Despite the mayor’s media campaign against the 8,000 strikers, the drivers and matrons have received substantial support from other unions and parents, who appreciate the value that the workers’ experience brings to the job.

Members of TWC Local 100, CWA Local 1180, SEIU Local 32 BJ, and other unions have shown up regularly to walk picket lines with the strikers.

At a press conference called by the United Federation of Teachers, a union spokesperson said that the teachers’ union is standing with the drivers and demanded that Mayor Bloomberg come to the table and negotiate an end to the strike.

At the same press conference, Noah Gottbaum, a parent of a special needs son said that his son’s driver and matron spend two hours a day with his child and that they have proven to be professionals in the services that they provide.

“I can’t tell you how important it is that my child is taken care of by professionals,” Gottbaum said. “Those who are trained. Those who care. Those who are on the buses every day. They are not only professionals; they are committed.”

He said that it was especially bad that the mayor wants to turn these services over to the lowest bidder. “That’s wrong for employees, but it’s especially wrong for our children,” Gottbaum said.