By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO Oct 19 Two workers performing
maintenance on the San Francisco commuter rail system were
killed when a train struck them on Saturday, on the second day
of a strike against the system that has snarled traffic across
A Bay Area Rapid Transit agency employee and a contractor
were checking a possible dip in the track just north of the
station in suburban Walnut Creek when they were struck and
killed by a BART train operating on automatic control during a
maintenance run, the agency said in a statement.
A BART spokeswoman could not immediately say if either of
the two people killed was a member of a union on strike against
Unionized BART employees walked off the job on Friday after
new contract talks broke down over pay increases and workplace
rules, shutting down a system that carries some 400,000
passengers a day.
The two sides had not agreed to resume talks as of Saturday
morning, according to spokeswomen for the two main unions
involved. "We have nothing scheduled at the moment," said
Cecille Isidro, spokeswoman for the Service Employees
The BART walkout is the second this year, after the agency's
workers went on strike for four and a half days in July. Their
unions and BART management were unable to reach a deal in the
Experts say the strike will be an economic drag. The July
work stoppage caused from $73 million to $100 million a day in
lost productivity for riders, said Rufus Jeffris, spokesman for
the Bay Area Council, which studies the local economy.
Unions announced the latest strike on Thursday, and a
federal mediator ended efforts at conciliation, saying there was
no more he could do. Little progress has been made since then,
and the two sides did not meet at all on Friday.
Union leaders held a news conference on Friday afternoon,
unveiling what they called a new set of proposals that could end
the strike later that night if BART officials accepted them.
But BART officials said in a written statement they could
not agree to the unions' "ultimatums," calling the proposals
essentially the same offer that had already been rejected.
Union negotiators have demanded large pay raises, in part to
offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more
Under the terms of the last contract offer that has been
made public, BART said it offered a 12 percent pay raise over
four years to workers, who management says earn on average
$79,000 a year, plus benefits. The unions put the average
worker's salary at $64,000.
Union leaders have justified their demands for higher pay in
part by pointing out that San Francisco is among the 10 most
expensive U.S. cities in which to live.
After negotiating late every day this week, the unions said
the sides had finally reached an overall understanding on pay
and benefits, but were at odds over workplace rules the unions
said BART had proposed at the last minute.
'MAD AS HELL'
But Grace Crunican, BART general manager, said in a written
statement on Friday that the work rules had been an issue for
six months and were critical to the rail system's operation.
"Using computers instead of manually recording and
transmitting information is essential in the technology age,"
she said. Crunican also suggested that union leaders had
mischaracterized the nature of the disagreement in the press.
"The unions grabbed the salary offer, but balked at the work
rule changes. While BART and the mediators were still at the
table, union leaders announced a strike to the media. They
offered to submit to binding arbitration on work rules and
falsely announced an agreement on salary," she said.
The proposed workplace rules at issue included allowing
same-day schedule changes, eliminating marginal pay increases
for certain senior custodial staff and scrapping past practices
that included guidelines for how an injured worker would be
integrated back onto the job, said Service Employees
International Union spokeswoman Isidro.
Commuters expressed frustration at the stalemate.
"I am mad as hell. It's a big hassle - thanks to BART," said
Jurgen Ware, who lives in the Bay Area suburb of Dublin and had
to carpool to his job in San Francisco on Friday. He also blamed
rail workers, saying they "have a stranglehold on the city."
After the July walkout California Governor Jerry Brown, a
Democrat, obtained a court order preventing another strike for
60 days. But that order has expired and Brown would have to call
a special session of the legislature to make another attempt to
force an end to the work stoppage.
"An extraordinary special session, at this point, would not
lead to the quick solution the people of the Bay Area want and
deserve," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email.
BART commuter rail service helps alleviate car traffic in
San Francisco, which ranks as the third most congested
metropolitan area in the nation after Los Angeles and Honolulu,
according to roadway traffic software company INRIX Inc.