| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Aug 9 San Francisco area commuter
rail workers were threatening to strike again, saying they could
stop work as early as Monday unless a deal with management can
be reached or California's governor steps in to intervene, with
the sides still tens of millions of dollars apart on contract
Governor Jerry Brown temporarily blocked a strike last week
and is weighing whether to seek a court order for a "cooling
off" period by Sunday to again avert what would be a second
walkout this summer. A strike on Monday would hit rush-hour,
causing traffic chaos in the state's second-largest metropolitan
Management for the region's rail system, dubbed BART, said
it could take two months to reach a contract, while unions said
they could settle by Sunday. A negotiator for one of BART's
unions said a strike notice on Friday remains an option.
"In the event that negotiations fail, we may issue a 48-hour
notice," Josie Mooney of SEIU 1021 said in a statement on
Thursday. The sides had yet to emerge from talks on Friday.
A notice would open the door for about 2,600 BART workers to
walk off the job on Monday unless Brown intervenes to prevent a
strike. A cooling-off period would ban a strike and keep the
trains that carry 400,000 riders daily running for at least 60
BART's unions shut the system down last month for four and a
half days, forcing passengers to work from home, drive, carpool
or crowd onto a limited number of buses and ferries for
prolonged, frustrating commutes.
"It's simply not possible to replace BART should another
strike occur," BART General Manager Grace Crunican said.
BART management on Wednesday told a panel appointed by Brown
to investigate the dispute. Management has offered a 9 percent
pay raise over four years. The unions said they want raises of 5
percent per year over three years and that additional pay
increases would be needed to offset higher benefit contributions
workers are being asked to take on.
BART managers want employees to pay 5 percent of their pay
toward pensions, to which workers currently do not contribute.
The move by BART is in line with trends across the nation, with
public-sector employees being required to pay more toward
pension and other benefits.
Unions said they were $56 million apart from management on
contract terms over three years; BART management pegged the gap
over the same period at $62 million.
BIGGER SHARE OF BENEFIT EXPENSES
BART management says the average employee gets an annual
salary of $79,500 plus $50,800 in benefits, and it is concerned
the cost of benefits will continue to climb after increasing by
nearly 200 percent in 10 years.
"We're trying to play catch-up," BART spokeswoman Alicia
Union representatives peg salaries of BART workers at
$64,000 on average, saying that management's figures included
higher salaries for managers.
"We are not ashamed to be bargaining to defend a
middle-class wage and benefit package," union attorney Vincent
The panel Brown appointed to look into the dispute may
report to him as early as Friday on its findings from
Wednesday's meeting. Brown will then decide whether to seek a
court injunction to block a strike.
Rating agencies are looking past the labor dispute.
Moody's Investors Service's analyst Eric Hoffmann said BART
district finances can withstand a strike of moderate length.
Moody's rates the district's general obligation debt Aaa.
Standard & Poor's rates the district's general obligation
bonds AAA with a stable outlook. Although BART would lose fare
revenue during a strike, funds for paying general obligation and
revenue bond debt would not be directly affected, S&P analyst
Alda Mostofi said.
BART has about $411 million in outstanding general
obligation bonds backed by a property tax and approximately $742
million in outstanding debt backed by sales taxes and fares.
The district, which has an annual budget of $1.5 billion,
gets about $215 million a year from sales-tax revenue, which
more than covers its $53 million annual debt service on its
Fitch Ratings has an AA rating and stable outlook on the
district's most recent sales tax revenue bonds and rates its
general obligation bonds AA-plus. "We describe (the district) as
having a solid financial profile," said Fitch analyst Matt