(Adds background about talks, strike throughout; quote from
By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO Oct 21 Striking San
Francisco-area transit workers reached a tentative contract deal
with management late on Monday to end a four-day walkout that
has paralyzed the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system,
union and transit agency officials said.
Union representatives said they were calling an immediate
halt to the strike by the 2,000-plus Bay Area Rapid Transit
(BART) employees who walked off the job last Friday in a dispute
over wages and workplace rules.
But due to the late hour of the settlement - announced at
about 10 p.m. local time - and the logistics involved in ramping
up the system from a standstill to full capacity, normal service
was unlikely to be restored before the afternoon rush-hour.
Officials for the transit agency said they expected some
trains to be running by 4 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican said details of the
settlement would not be made public until union leaders have a
chance to discuss the terms with their members.
The tentative accord must be voted on and ratified by union
rank-and-file, and be approved by BART's board of directors
before it takes effect.
The two unions involved - Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)
Local 1555 - said the deal "provides for reasonable wage
increases, a compromise on pension and healthcare costs (and)
work rule changes that allow for innovation and input from
Crunican described the four-year package as providing "more
than we wanted to pay, but it is also a new path in terms of our
partnership with our workers and helps us deliver the BART
service for the future."
MEDIATOR HELPS CLINCH DEAL
The breakthrough came hours after the two sides resumed
bargaining Monday afternoon, conducting their talks by telephone
through a federal mediator who acted as a go-between rather than
meeting face-to-face, at least initially.
The latest negotiations were the first since the previous
round of talks collapsed last Thursday afternoon, setting the
stage for the strike.
Going into Monday's sessions, SEIU spokeswoman Cecille
Isidro said the parties had essentially reached agreement on
wages, pensions and healthcare contributions, while proposed
work rule changes that the union criticized as potentially
unsafe remained the chief stumbling block.
BART officials said the two sides were still in dispute over
economic issues at the time talks resumed.
The strike has idled a commuter rail system that serves more
than 400,000 round-trip riders a day in San Francisco, Oakland,
Berkeley and outlying suburbs, causing severe rush-hour gridlock
in one of the most traffic-clogged cities in the United States.
BART ranks as the fifth-largest U.S. rapid transit system by
ridership, after New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and
Boston, according to data from the American Public
The strike, a continuation of labor tensions that led to an
earlier walkout in July, took a tragic turn on Saturday when two
transit workers - a BART manager and a contractor - were struck
and killed by a BART train while inspecting a section of track.
The unions suggested in a statement on Sunday that BART
management might have been partly responsible for the deaths,
saying labor officials had warned agency executives about the
risks of allowing replacement drivers to operate trains.
The driver of the train in question, which was out of
service and not carrying commuters at the time, has not been
identified, but BART officials said the train was running on
automatic control when the accident occurred.
The National Transportation Safety Board began an
investigation of the incident on Sunday.
"I don't want it to be forgotten that two lives were lost
during this time," Antonette Bryant, president of the
Amalgamated Transit Union local, said at the late-night news
conference announcing the settlement.
For months, BART management and employee unions have been at
odds over pay and benefits for union workers who are demanding
large pay raises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to
their pensions and pay more for healthcare.
Under the terms of the last contract proposal made public,
BART said it was offering a 12 percent pay raise over four
years. According to management, BART workers earn $79,000 a year
on average, plus benefits. The unions put the average worker's
salary at $64,000.
Union representatives had said late on Sunday they had
delivered a "new counterproposal" to management offering
flexibility on rules governing workplace technology, but no
details were disclosed.
The BART walkout is the second this year after unionized
workers went on strike for 4-1/2 days in July. That strike, the
first against the BART system since 1997, was called off after
management and labor agreed to extend their negotiations for
another 30 days.
As those talks bogged down and the unions threatened to
strike again in August, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown obtained
a court order imposing a 60-day cooling-off period aimed at
giving the two sides more time to reach a settlement.
(Additional reporting by Ronnie Cohen and Noel Randewich in San
Francisco; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston,
Diane Craft, Lisa Shumaker and Elizabeth Piper)