Barring a last-minute deal, workers for San Francisco's commuter BART rail system will go on strike Friday morning after negotiations between employee unions and BART management broke down. "Unfortunately, yes -- we are on strike as of midnight," Amalgamated Transit Union president Antonette Bryant told the San Jose Mercury News after a nonstop 30-hour negotiating session, from which many negotiators emerged wearing day-old clothes.
At stake are the pay and benefits for about 2,000 union workers for the transit system. Those workers are asking for pay increases in exchange for a new requirement to pay into their pensions, and to pay higher health care premiums. BART management reportedly offered a 12 percent pay raise, while unions wanted a raise of 15.9 percent. But as the midnight deadline approaches, it looks like the main issue is a disagreement over a number of safety proposals and job perks that BART management would like to toss, rather than over the pay disparity.
While some progress was made during this week's negotiations, especially on the pensions and salary front, it wasn't enough. The federal government mediator working with both sides to come to some sort of agreement said that "Our mediation process has come to an end" as he left negotiations on Thursday ahead of the deadline. Mediator George Cohen added to Mercury News, "Unfortunately, regrettably, we were not able to bring them the result we all want to achieve: a voluntary collective bargaining agreement." For management's part, BART General Manager Grace Crunican told reporters that "It’s not management that asked for a strike, it’s the unions."
The BART system handles about 400,000 daily rides from commuters in the San Francisco Bay area. The impending strike, which one union rep said would take a "miracle" to prevent, follows a four-and-a-half day BART strike in July.