October 18, 2013 in Nation/World

Federal mediator drops out of BART contract talks

Lee Romney Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Federal mediator George Cohen, center, speaks during a news conference on Thursday in Oakland, Calif., on the status of negotiations between Bay Area Rapid Transit workers and management.
(Full-size photo)

Busy system

About 400,000 riders take the Bay Area Rapid Transit every weekday, making it the nation’s fifth-largest commuter rail system.

OAKLAND, Calif. – The federal mediator leading efforts to avert a Bay Area Rapid Transit strike said Thursday that he was heading back to Washington, leaving little hope that a midnight walkout could be averted.

George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said his team would be available “when and if the parties request further assistance” but that “mediation services came to an end this afternoon.”

BART workers went on strike for 4 days in July, until Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 60-day cooling-off period.

Negotiations could continue before the midnight strike deadline, but it was clear Thursday that the chance of agreement was remote. At issue were not the economics of the deal, which the unions had largely accepted. Instead, it came down to work rules that labor said took away workers’ rights.

Service Employees International Union President Roxanne Sanchez said the union “met the BART board and general manager 100 percent” on pension and health benefit contributions and were very close on salaries. Sticking points involved safety proposals and certain work rules that management said would allow flexibility essential to adopting new technologies.

Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 – the union negotiating alongside SEIU Local 1021 – said she was “deeply disappointed” to come forth with bad news.

She said the strike would be the result of management’s “absolute arrogance. … At the last minute, they threw in a management rights clause to take away our rights as workers.”

BART General Manager Grace Crunican offered a different view, calling the negotiation “all about the long-term sustainability for BART” and plans by the board to invest in the infrastructure of the 40-year-old old system “so it doesn’t turn into a system that deteriorates.”

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