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BART union ratifies contract that ended strike

BART union ratifies contract that ended strike
Bay Area Rapid Transit passengers wait for a train Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Members of a Bay Area Rapid Transit labor union that went out on strike twice in recent months overwhelmingly ratified a contract agreement that officials said will increase pay and lead to improved safety conditions.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1021 announced late Friday night that members approved a four-year contract with BART that covers workers responsible for the repair, maintenance and cleaning of the BART system.

The second BART union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, also voted on the contract Friday, but local news reports said the union would not announce the result until later Saturday morning.

ATU President Antonette Bryant said earlier that the union's executive board recommended a yes vote. "But it remains to see what the members' choices are."

If both unions ratify the contract, BART's board of directors would likely then vote on the new contract during a special meeting, BART officials have said.

The SEIU said 88 percent of Friday's vote was in favor of a contract that provides for reasonable wage increases and a compromise on pension and health care costs. The agreement also calls for significant safety improvements at the transit agency.

"We are pleased BART's SEIU workers have approved the labor agreement," BART General Manager Grace Crunican said in a statement. "Both our employees and the public will benefit from the comprehensive package approved tonight by SEIU. The contract lays the groundwork for continued reliable service for years to come."

The contract included a 15 percent raise and promised improved safety conditions.

"Starting with this contract, BART will have a procedure in place to track safety notices district-wide," said SEIU official Saul Almanza. "For the first time we'll have an electronic tracking system of notices filed by workers to flag unresolved safety hazards."

The agreement also requires BART workers to pay into their pensions for the first time and increases their monthly health care contributions from about $92 to $129. The unions represent train operators, station agents, custodians and maintenance and clerical workers.

The vote also comes nearly two weeks after the unions reached a deal with BART management that ended months of tortured talks over salary, benefits and safety conditions. The unions went on strike for nearly five days in July and after a state-mandated cooling off-period, went back to the picket lines for another four days last month angering thousands of commuters.

During the second strike, two BART workers killed by a train operated by an employee under training in Walnut Creek on Oct. 19 which many believe drew the parties back to the bargaining table to finally iron out a deal a couple of days later.
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