10:01am

Mon July 1, 2013
Transportation

BART workers strike

Bay Area Rapid Transit workers are now on strike after failing to reach a deal on contract negotiations.

The 400,000 commuters who rely on the San Francisco-area rail system are now having to find a different way to get to work. Reports from Oakland say the casual carpool lines are extra busy. Over at the El Cerrito de Norte BART station, a line of free shuttles offering round trips to Oakland and San Francisco is easing the crowds. The ferries are running extra boats, and the lines, while long, are not as bad as some commuters expected.

The transit agency's two biggest unions, which represent train operators, station agents, and maintenance staff, walked out on negotiations Sunday afternoon after they rejected BART's latest contract proposal.

In a press release, BART spokesperson Rick Rice said the agency had doubled their pay increase offer from four to eight percent over the next four years, and had lowered employee contributions to health care and pensions.

"The new offer will ensure that - even with new contributions to health care and pension programs - all BART employees will see a net increase in total compensation," he said.

BART sent that proposal to union leaders through email on Saturday, after the unions say waited 36 hours for BART to negotiate.

In a letter to BART negotiators earlier on Sunday, the unions leaders said the extra four percent came from a series of conditional raises they claimed would be nearly impossible to meet. They called the offer an "illusory wage increase" and a "rank PR stunt."

At the del Norte station on Monday, picket captain and ATU Local 1555 worker Charmaine Ayers said she doesn't like going on strike-- she loves her job as a station agent. But she said a strike was necessary to make BART take the unions seriously. She cited safety for the workers and the public as her number one concern. 

"We're out here for [the public] as well," she said. "This is not about us. This is all all about keeping everybody safe and everybody happy, working, traveling. No trains, that's not a good sign." 

BART is urging its 400,000 daily riders to work from home or find other ways to work, like casual carpools and buses. BART has been also running a shuttle out of the El Cerrito del Norte, Walnut Creek, Dublin/Pleasanton and Fremont stations in the East Bay into San Francisco in the mornings and back again in the evenings.

BART workers haven't gone on strike since 1997, when the system halted for six days, causing massive gridlock. Back then, daily ridership was around 275,000.

To complicate matters, union workers from AC Transit -- which provides bus service for a large part of the East Bay and runs several transbay bus lines-- are having their own contract negotiation problems. Their contract also expired last night, but union leaders have said they will give 24 hours notice before a strike.

They haven't done so yet, and both sides are at the negotiating table. An AC Transit official helping out at the El Cerrito del Norte BART station said the buses were much fuller than usual, mostly with people who had never taken AC Transit. 

One woman waiting at the bus stop said she usually takes BART, and today's commute to Richmond was taking 45 minutes longer than usual.