BART management, unions, and state mediators announced last night that the striking workers have agreed to go back to work this morning. Service is scheduled to begin today at 3 p.m.
Marty Morgenstern, the state secretary of labor, announced after about 10 hours of Fourth of July talks that the parties have agreed to continue negotiations with a target of concluding a new agreement by August 4. Until then, the current contract will remain in force.
“The contract will be extended until Aug. 4, the parties will continue to negotiate just as hard as they are now, as long hours as are necessary, to reach an agreement on a new contract,” Morgenstern said. “The new contract will be retroactive to July 1st, when the old one ran out.”
BART and the striking SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 appeared to be near impasse earlier in the day. When asked what the prospects are of the two sides reaching an agreement by Aug. 4, Morgenstern said they were “close enough that we’ll get there.” Pressed about issues that remain to be decided, Morgenstern laughed and said, “I don’t have that much time.”
“What this means to the riding public is that the trains will be open tomorrow afternoon at 3 o’clock,” said BART General Manager Grace Crunican. “I’d like to thank the unions for being party to this agreement.”
But Crunican and union representatives said the two sides remain far apart.
“Unfortunately, the issues that brought us to this point remain unresolved,” Crunican said. “Despite lots of hard work, BART and its unions have failed to come to an agreement on contract issues that matter to all of us today and into the future. We still have a wide gap of disagreements to bridge over the next 30 days.”
SEIU and ATU officials said after Morgenstern’s announcement that talks this week had produced little progress.
Josie Mooney, a chief negotiator for SEIU, Local 1021, said late Thursday that there’s still a lot of work left to do and asked the public to keep the parties on task.
“We stand together tonight and we expect to be standing together with a new contract at the end of August 4 and we hope to goodness that you insist that all the parties do the right thing,” Mooney said.
The principal issues in the dispute are pay, pensions, and worker contributions to health benefits. The unions have sought a wage increase of more than 20 percent for the next four years after agreeing to a freeze and granting $100 million in concessions on their last contract, negotiated in 2009, when BART faced a steep deficit. Management wants workers to make pay more for health benefits—most make a flat $92 monthly payment for family coverage— and to begin to contribute to their pension plan.
Morgenstern said last night’s agreement to go back to work without a new contract having been negotiated is different from an imposed cooling-off period because “the parties agreed to this themselves, at our recommendation.”
Gov. Jerry Brown last weekend declined a union request to go to court for a 60-day cooling-off period while encouraging the unions to work for an agreement before their contracts expired at midnight on June 30. One reason the governor may have refused to step in: The 60-day period would have ended close to Labor Day weekend, when Caltrans is planning to close the Bay Bridge prior to opening its new eastern span. A BART walkout at the same time would likely paralyze transportation in most of the Bay Area.
The four-plus-day strike didn’t bring the region to its knees, but it triggered long commute delays and widespread frustration at the loss of the centerpiece of the region’s transit system. Judging both by polls taken by media organizations and from the large volume and bitter tone of complaints aired on social media, the walkout was very unpopular with many in what both BART and the unions call “the riding public.”