As of early Friday morning, The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system workers say they are going on strike. (Associated Press)

Bay Area Rapid Transit workers are on strike Friday in and around San Francisco, disrupting schedules for hundreds of thousands of commuters. Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the two unions representing the workers, have been negotiating with BART’s management for months. Workers have struck for several days already, and have been threatening to strike again all week:

Talks began in April, three months before the June 30 contract expirations, but both sides were far apart. The unions initially asked for 23.2 percent in raises over three years. BART countered with a four-year contract with 1 percent raises contingent on the agency meeting economic goals.

The unions contended that members made $100 million in concessions when they agreed to a deal in 2009 as BART faced a $310 million deficit. And they said they wanted their members to get their share of a $125 million operating surplus produced through increased ridership.

But the transit agency countered that it needed to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.

On Sunday, BART General Manager Grace Crunican presented a “last, best and final offer” that includes an annual 3 percent raise over four years and requires workers to contribute 4 percent toward their pension and 9.5 percent toward medical benefits.

The value of BART’s proposal is $57 million, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said, adding that the agency is looking at ways to incorporate the unions’ counterproposals into that cost.

SEIU Local 1021 executive director Pete Castelli said Monday the parties were between $6 million to $10 million apart.

Workers represented by the two unions, including more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff, now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, the transit agency said. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions.

Associated Press

Although union leaders and management have largely settled their differences over compensation and benefits, negotiations ended without a resolution Thursday night because of disagreements over work rules:

When BART and union representatives talk about “work rules” leading to the breakdown in negotiations, they’re primarily referring to a clause in their contract that refers to past practices, or the way things have been done previously. To change a past practice, BART’s contracts require mutual agreement between management and the unions which can be hard to get.

According to BART officials, that makes it difficult to make technological changes like having station agents file reports by e-mail instead of writing them out longhand, using e-mail instead of fax machines to send documents and sending paycheck stubs to each work location electronically instead of hand-delivering them.

“It’s something that’s unique to BART among transit agencies,” said Alicia Trost, a BART spokeswoman.

It also prevents BART from making changes in the way it schedules workers or adds extra service on holidays, Trost said. For instance, if BART adds service on a holiday because of a special event, the unions could force the agency to schedule similar service the next year on that holiday, even if the event is not being held.

“Because we did something once or twice,” she said, “we have to keep doing it.”

Union officials said there are reasons to keep past practices alive, including preventing BART management from making punitive work assignments to employees who have filed workplace complaints.

“They offered us a poison pill, trade your paycheck for your rights,” said Peter Castelli, executive director of the SEIU local.

San Francisco Chronicle

About 400,000 people ride BART every day during the week.