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SF transit workers get raise, higher benefit costs

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JUSTIN PRITCHARD and LISA LEFF | October 23, 2013 07:50 PM EST | AP


OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The tentative contract that ended the San Francisco Bay Area's transit strike includes a 15 percent raise over four years but also increased worker contributions toward their health insurance and pensions, a person with direct knowledge of the agreement said Wednesday.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit district and its two largest unions reached the agreement Monday night, but its details have yet to be made public because the two sides still were double-checking the wording before presenting the deal to union members for a vote.

The person with direct knowledge of the deal that allowed BART service to resume after a four-day strike said workers would get paid 15.4 percent more by the time the agreement ends in 2017. That's more than the 12 percent raise BART presented as its best and final offer before the strike.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the details hadn't been discussed with rank-and-file members of the two unions, which represent more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff.

The deal also requires employees to contribute more toward their benefits. Monthly health insurance premiums would increase from $92 to $129. And, for the first time, workers would have to contribute to their state pensions.

The rate would be 1 percent in the first year, topping out at 4 percent in the fourth year. At the same time, workers would get back 72 cents for every dollar they contribute in an arrangement called a "pension swap."

Chris Daly, political director for one of the unions — Service Employees International Union local 1021 — confirmed the basic salary, health care and pension changes. But he disputed the suggestion that workers would be earning 15.4 percent more when the new contract expires, saying higher costs for health care and pensions make the take-home increase more like 2 or 3 percent over each of the four years.

"It's a decent contract," he said. "We fought very hard, we consider it a victory, and I'm happy to go advocate it to our members."

Both unions still must vote to ratify the contract, which will not happen before next week. A BART spokesman, Jim Allison, declined comment, saying "We are going to respect the process of the union leadership going to their members."

Specifics on nonfinancial work rule changes contained in the proposed agreement — the sticking point in the unions' decision to walk off the job last week — remained sketchy.

For example, BART originally wanted to be able to change work schedules with greater ease while the unions wanted to preserve schedules such as a four-day, 10-hour week. Other proposed changes would have affected the handling of worker claims of discrimination or harassment by managers.

The deal that will be voted on contains concessions by both sides, according to the person familiar with its contents. Union negotiators agreed to make it easier for BART to introduce technology into work routines.

The transit agency also agreed to several changes, including better lighting in stations and tunnels, the cutting of overgrown vegetation near tracks and the possibility of reopening bathrooms at several stations that have been closed more than a decade.

Under their old contract that expired in June, the members of SEIU 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union 1555 earned an average base salary of about $71,000 and $11,000 in overtime annually, BART officials said.

The unions initially asked for 23.2 percent in raises over three years. BART offered a four-year contract with 1 percent raises contingent on the agency meeting economic goals.