Update: Wednesday’s morning results show that BART workers decided to allow union leaders to call a strike if a contract agreement isn’t reached by July 1.
Bay Area Rapid Transit riders braced themselves Tuesday for a possible strike that could tremendously slow down their commute as soon as next Monday. Labor unions gathered at Metro Center in San Francisco on Tuesday to vote to authorize a strike.
Results of the votes are expected to be announced Wednesday morning.
More than 400,000 daily BART riders would be affected by the strike.
Jack Naidu, who lives in Hayward and works in Oakland, said a BART strike would be a major inconvenience. He said BART is his main source of transportation.
“How would I get to work?“ Naidu asked. “I do not know what I would do.”
BART and labor unions have negotiated since April over a new labor contract. The current contract is set to expire July 1.
Riders faced possible strikes in 2005 and 2009, but parties were able to reach a compromise without disruption of service. In 1997 though, BART users had to deal with six days of interrupted service and subsequent major traffic jams throughout the Bay Area.
Although a strike isn’t the goal, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), union officials say they want to make sure workers’ rights are protected.
“It’s our workers that make BART what it is today,“ SEIU spokesperson Leah Berlanga said. “We’re down 130 vacant positions [on BART], so our folks are working harder and BART isn’t compensating for it.”
The proposed contract would give employees various raises in pay and benefits that would amount to a 23 percent increase in compensation over the next three years.
Berlanga said that safety is another issue that’s important to the labor union and that reaching an agreement on new policies could be difficult. In the last five years, workers have complained about numerous safety issues — primarily poor lighting at stations.
Berlanga said that these issues, along with other proposals that have been brought to the attention of BART management, have been ignored.
On Tuesday afternoon, some commuters in Oakland and San Francisco took the possible strike in stride while others worried.
“They always wait to the last minute with these things,” said Maxine, who declined to give her last name.
If a strike happens, she’ll take AC Transit buses from San Francisco to Downtown Oakland where she works, she said.
At 24th Street BART station, where members of SEIU Local 1021 gathered in support of the strike Tuesday morning, some riders dreaded what might lie ahead.
Phillip, who declined to give his last name, said he would be forced to ride his bicycle if workers go on strike.
“Last time they tried this, their demands seemed unreasonable,” he said. “They get benefits, they make decent wages.”
Berlanga said that the union is doing everything in its power to make striking a last resort. “We just want BART to meet us half way, “ she said.