BART on strike after talks break down UPDATED

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Buckle up, Bay Area, BART workers go on strike at midnight. After intense negotiations over the last few days, the two sides have failed to reach an agreement.

Leaders of the two unions fault the district for refusing to bend on the “last, best, and final” offer that it issued a few days ago. They say agreements have been reached on pension and health care contributions, but that the two sides remain far apart on pay and benefits, and the unions say the district rejected their offers to settle the remaining disagreements through binding arbitration.

[UPDATE: On KQED's Forum this morning, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost and SEIU Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez each said it was the district's 11th hour demand for more authority over work rules that led talks to break down. While Trost casts it authority to make changes like switching from faxes to email, Sanchez said the issue is more fundamental: protecting the eight-hour workday, giving workers predicability in scheduling, and preventing punitive changes aimed at whistleblowers and union activists -- essentially, preventing union busting. Sanchez wants that issue submitted to binding arbitration, the district has refused, with Trost saying the district isolate it from the pay and benefits, where Sanchez said the sides have agreed to a "basic framework." BART workers and union officials are current gathered at Lake Merritt Station and we'll have more on the strike and contract impasse later in the day.]

Both sides are blaming the other for a strike that will likely have a huge impact on the Bay Area, particularly if it drags on past tomorrow (Fri/18).

Meanwhile, BART General Manager Grace Crunican issued the following statement after talks broke down:

“I am very disappointed that even after six months of day after day, night after night intense negotiations we are still unable to reach a deal. It hasn’t been all for nothing, we were able to make progress but a large gap remains.

“Today I gave an updated final offer to the unions on behalf of the Board. It reflects the limited progress we’ve made over the past four days of work and it addresses the essential work rule efficiencies BART desperately needs to modernize our operations.

“The package is a 3 percent raise per year for a total of a 12 percent, with a chance to earn up to $1,000 a year if ridership grows. It calls for contributions of 4 percent for pension and 9.5 percent for medical.  I think the offer is good for the workers and good for BART. We’ve given our unions until October 27th to consider the offer and take it to a vote of the members.

“I appreciate the riders’ and the Bay Area’s support in standing by us during these difficult negotiations. We are not going to agree to something we can’t afford. We have to protect the aging system for our workers and the public.

“Thank you to the mediators that were involved, BART staff, and Caltrans for their hospitality.

“We gave it our all and it didn’t come together and that is disappointing to everyone involved. We have a lot to do to build the future: a new fleet of rail cars, modern stations, better access, and a stronger partnership with our unions. I believe we can get there, but we have to get there together.”

Information on alternative commute options can be found at www.bart.gov andalert.511.org