BART announces deal to prevent strike

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BART and its labor unions are getting ahead of their next labor negotiation, striking a tentative deal one year early.  

If both sides ratify, it means no drama when the contracts come up, and no threat of another bitter strike like the one in 2013.

"We want to give the workers a big round of applause and thank them for all that they've done, " said BART General Manager Grace Crunican at a Monday press conference.

Crunican was flanked by union officers representing train operators, station agents, clerical and custodial staff.

In the past, BART management has complained employees are overpaid, but now, poised to give ten percent raises over four years, they are praising them.

"They're the most productive in the industry," declared Crunican," and I think we get a great return on investment."

Historically, BART negotiations have always been contentious, and have always gone down to the wire.

"They've turned a new page, it's a new chapter," smiled a rider at the Walnut Creek station, upon hearing the news.

Passengers are happy, if a bit shocked to hear labor peace has arrived early.    

"That's great news! Tell me about it!" exclaimed another rider. 

The 2013 strike lasted 10 days, split by a cooling off period, and forced the Bay Area into freeway gridlock and lost productivity. Trains sat, customers fumed, and both sides blamed one another. 

It ended shortly after a management "trainee", at the controls of a near-empty train, accidentally struck and killed two employees on the track near Walnut Creek.    

"It was awful, the whole thing was awful, from beginning to end, for everyone involved, " recalled Mark DeSaulnier, then a State Senator- now U.S. Congressman- whose district encompasses nine BART stations.

DeSaulnier helped broker the strike's end.   

"We already made that mistake, so this is really good news that we won't be doing that again," Rep. DeSaulnier told KTVU. "Now we have five years to work on changing BART so people have a high degree of confidence in it." 

But confidence is shaky now because of breakdowns in a 43-year-old system.

Some parts are so old they're not manufactured anymore.

New train cars are on order, but slow to arrive. 

"We've been able to work through things," observed BART Board President Tom Radulovich, speaking at the news conference.

Radulovich said the new contract would enable everyone to focus on keeping trains running, and rebuilding infrastructure.

"The folks in this room came together and said, it's going to be better for our workers, better for the Bay Area if we do this now." 

Harmony also improves the odds of BART winning passage on upcoming sales tax and bond measures the agency needs to raise millions for its capital improvements.

"I would have voted for the bond measure no matter what because I want the upgrades to BART," shared one rider, upon hearing about BART's proposals.  Without the threat of a strike ahead, BART's ride becomes much less bumpy.

Both sides, once so antagonistic towards each other, seem to hope riders forgive and forget.        

"When two kids are fighting in the sandbox, you don't really care who started the fight," noted Amalgamated Transit Union President Chris Finn. "You just want those kids to figure it out, stop fighting, and improve the relationship."

BART says the new contracts will not require a fare hike, because the money is already allocated, and BART is setting ridership records.