BART riders who worry about a strike will be heartened to know that labor and management are fully adhering to Gov. Jerry Brown's instructions. He ordered the two sides to observe a cooling-off period, and they've excelled at cooling off.
They haven't bargained since Aug. 10. They won't bargain again until at least Sept. 9. They've cooled off so much that they may need sweaters when they finally meet up. It's a wonder there isn't frost on the rails.
"We've been waiting for the mediators to set a schedule," BART spokesman Rick Rice explained.
You will recall that during their most recent contract talks, the two sides were at odds over some fairly consequential points -- salary increases, pension contributions, medical costs, hours in a work week (management wants 40; labor remains fond of 37½) -- and some less contentious "supplemental" issues such as job classifications, working conditions and technology implementations.
Adding to the complexity is that BART must come to terms with two different labor groups -- the Amalgamated Transit Union and Service Employees International.
It's been obvious for a while that all parties concerned needed more time to find common ground. That's why Brown imposed an extension for further talks. Apparently, he chose 60 days because he knew they wouldn't do anything for the first 30. Good thing it wasn't longer.
Now, no one is urging representatives on either side to commit to anything rash. State and county officials did that about a dozen years ago, and taxpayers have been buried under public-sector retirement expenses ever since. But doing nothing isn't a vastly better option. When most of us do nothing for a month, it's called a vacation, not cooling off.
BART officials keep reminding everyone who will listen that a work stoppage would wreak havoc with the economy and the environment. They put the daily numbers at $73 million in lost productivity and 20,000 gallons in extra fuel burned. That said, a 10-car train to havoc will arrive Oct. 10 unless an agreement magically appears.
Management has offered a 10 percent salary increase over four years; labor has pushed for 15 percent over three. Management wants employee pension contributions rising annually from 1 percent to 4 percent; labor wants a bigger salary bump before agreeing to such contributions. Management wants to cap its health care costs at whatever basic premium it can negotiate with Kaiser Permanente or Blue Shield; labor has offered a 5 percent increase to its current $92-per-month arrangement.
BART officials sound as if they've gone as far as they will. In fact, they want the rank-and-file to vote on their offer. That would be a waste of time, labor negotiators respond.
If anyone knows anything about wasting time, it's the two sides in this debate. They started kicking this can back and forth June 30, and the only thing they have to show for it is a dented can.
On the surface, it seems employees have been offered a pretty sweet deal. Even a 4 percent pension contribution beats the blazes out of the 6 percent most of us pay into Social Security. And BART employees are eligible for full benefits at age 55, not 66 or 67 like the rest of us. Add a 10 percent salary hike over four years -- everyone who's getting that kind of increase, please raise your hands -- and it's difficult to rationalize a work stoppage.
Maybe a strike is inevitable. But whatever happens, it won't be because the two sides failed to cool off.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.