California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Sunday night ordered a board of inquiry to investigate the contract negotiations between the Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (BART) and the unions representing the system’s 2,400 workers. The order averted a strike—for at least seven days—that was likely to begin this morning if negotiators were unable to reach new contract.
The unions, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021, told reporters that they hoped the board’s investigation would reveal BART management’s failure to bargain in good faith and its lack of commitment to reaching a fair settlement. ATU Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant said:
From the very onset we have said we do not want to disrupt the riding public. If the district would come to the table and bargain with us in full and good faith for a fair and equitable contract, none of this would be necessary. The governor would not have had to get involved. We are going to the board of inquiry with everything we have to prove that from the onset we have come with full and fair, equitable and reasonable proposals.
The board has seven days to report to Brown who will then decide whether or not to impose a longer “cooling off” period.
Four years ago, to help the BART system through rough economic times, workers gave up pay raises for five years and made $100 million in concessions. Union leaders called BART’s latest economic proposal, presented this weekend, “regressive” from its earlier offers that were estimated to be as much as 4% reduction.
As important are a number of safety issues that must still be resolved. John Logan, professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, points out that since 2009, BART management has cut the system's operations staff by 8%. During the same four-year period injuries that BART reported to Cal-OSHA have increased by a whopping 43%. He writes on Labor’s Edge:
BART management has also consistently misrepresented several key safety issues that are at the heart of the dispute….BART management needs to spend more time engaging in real discussions at the bargaining table and less time trying to win the battle of public opinion through its sophisticated media campaign. Negotiating through the media may be easier than doing it face to face, but it won't resolve this dispute.