BART Board asks Governor to reject "cooling off" period
Board wants a contract done by July 1
BART's Board of Directors says it is serious about concluding the contract negotiations with all five of its unions by July 1 – so much so that board members have jointly signed a letter and sent it to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger telling him they will not ask him for a 60-day cooling off period.
"The BART Board calls upon union leaders to join with BART management in addressing this serious deficit," BART Board Vice President, and longest-serving board member James Fang said. "Our riders are facing increased costs and service modifications. Now is the time for union leaders to step up to the plate and join management in making the tough choices needed in these grim economic times."
In the past, BART or its unions have at times asked the Governor to declare a 60-day cooling off period if new contracts had not been settled by the June 30 deadline.
"The BART Board of Directors will not be requesting a 60-day cooling off period if we are unable to reach an agreement to renew our labor contracts when they expire on June 30, 2009," the Board's letter says. "To avoid unnecessarily prolonging negotiations, we respectfully ask that you deny any request that a BART union may seek from you for a cooling off period."
BART faces a nearly $250 million, four-year deficit. The Board believes there is no reason why the unions and BART shouldn't be able to agree to new contracts before they expire. Continuing negotiations past July 1 only makes BART's $250 million, four-year deficit grow. The letter also points out that a 60-day cooling off period: Would cost an additional $500,000 - $1 million to negotiate for 60 more days
Would set new contract deadlines around the Labor Day weekend, when Caltrans has asked BART to run service 24-hours a day for 4+ days while the Bay Bridge closes for construction work. A BART service interruption around this time would immobilize the Bay Area
Would not allow BART to realize critical savings in the first year of the contracts from health benefit changes and staffing level adjustments
"If Riders are Doing Their part starting July 1, So BART and its Employees"
The letter explains that the Board has a clear plan to eliminate two-thirds of that deficit through a variety of cost-cutting measures, including targeting $100 million in labor cost reductions as the employees' fair share of the solution. BART management has been negotiating with the unions since April 1, and is asking the unions to reduce the cost of their benefits and pensions so riders and taxpayers don't have to pay more.
"For the good of the Bay Area and our riders, we must get this done by July one," Fang said. "Recently the Board approved modest fare hikes and expanded the number of stations where our customers have to pay $1 per day to park. We value our employees and we are committed to working with our unions to reach an agreement. But we're all living in tough times and we all need to make sacrifices and share the pain. If the riders are doing their part starting July 1, so should BART and its employees. We can't kick the can down the road because each day of delay means we lose out on achieving the necessary savings we need to prevent the deficit from growing larger. We think it would be unwise to delay negotiations past Labor Day and then face possible service disruptions that could impact our customers as they return from their summer vacations. I will personally see that there is no delay in negotiating on the BART side."
BART is also proposing to eliminate contract language that limits the agency's right to improve productivity by changing outdated, wasteful work rules -- changes that would also cut costs and help solve the deficit.
To see the full letter to the Governor and to get more information regarding BART's labor negotiations, visit www.BARTlabor.com.
BART Board letter to Governor Schwarzenegger (965k .pdf)