The BART Board of Directors voted recently to approve new bargaining agreements with the agency’s three largest labor unions.
By a 7-2 vote during its Dec. 3 meeting, the board approved three-year labor contracts for employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555; and Service Employees International Union Local 1021.
The contracts, running from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2024, will not prevent the agency from reducing its labor force if needed to close its budget deficit due to lost revenue during the coronavirus.
They also tie potential wage increases in fiscal years 2023 and 2024 to how much average weekday ridership rebounds post-pandemic.
Multiple board members said approving the contracts, roughly six months before the three unions’ contracts expire, would offer BART some stability in the coming months as it grapples with projected deficits of eight and nine figures without federal relief funding.
“There’s still some uncertainly, of course there is,” Director Robert Raburn said. “But the uncertainty is reduced by locking in a contract now, early, rather than spending six months or more of very difficult labor negotiations.”
Officials from all three unions agreed with that sentiment, arguing that approving the contracts early allows rank-and-file workers the ability to focus on making sure train service continues uninterrupted.
“This contract means we’re all in this together, through the ups and downs and the unknowns.”BART Director Rebecca Saltzman
“Rather than waiting until next summer or even later, (these contracts) will allow BART management to properly plan and budget now for next year, with certainty, and still be in a place to help the Bay Area recover,” said Jessie Hunt, the president of ATU Local 1555, which represents employees like station agents and train operators.
Board Directors Debora Allen and Liz Ames voted against ratifying the contracts, arguing the agency’s financial future is too opaque for the time being, particularly without the promise of federal funding help, to extend a contract by three years.
Allen suggested the board should begin receiving reports on projected budget deficits three years into the future and contract extension decisions should be made on those terms.
“We are all hopeful that another $377 million will come to us from (Washington,) D.C., and we’re hopeful that the retirement incentive will induce enough people to retire from exactly the right positions we can afford to eliminate … We shouldn’t be budgeting to hopeful aspiration,” Allen said.
Board Director Bevan Dufty argued against putting off ratifying the contracts because of future budget concerns, saying the agency did not need to be distracted with a dragged-out labor negotiation process.
“This focus on somehow everything would be okay with a three-year forecast; we might as well do a (request for proposals) on all the psychics in the Bay Area,” Dufty said. “Things are so uncertain right now.”
Director Rebecca Saltzman said the agreements were both fair and flexible, and cemented that BART’s future will be tied to the health of its workforce as much as its ridership.
“This contract means we’re all in this together, through the ups and downs and the unknowns,” she said.