Governor Averts Strike of Bay Area Transit Staff

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Bay Area Rapid Transit workers will not strike for the second time after California Gov. Jerry Brown ordering a commission to investigate why neither side has budged despite months of talks.
     Brown’s action late Sunday – hours before BART workers were scheduled to hit the picket lines for the second time in a month – came at the request of the transit district’s board president, Tom Radulovich. He noted to the governor that, in addition to badly needed upgrades for the Bay Area’s main commuter system, “the cost of maintaining benefits continues to grow faster than our revenues.”
     “Our labor agreements must reflect these financial realities,” Radulovich wrote.
     In response, Brown invoked government code by appointing a three-person commission to investigate the claims of BART and its labor unions. The law also prohibits any strike or lockout while the investigation is completed, and a report is due the governor’s desk within seven days.
     Brown urged both sides to continue negotiating during the investigation.
     “For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge – in the strongest terms possible – the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved,” Brown wrote.
     Train drivers, station agents and other workers have demanded a 4.5 percent wage increase for each of the next three years, in addition to a 2.2 percent cost of living adjustment. BART offered an 8 percent increase spread over four years while asking workers to contribute more to their health insurance plans.
     Brown’s panel includes Alcoholic Beverage Control director – and longtime Brown adviser – Jacob Applesmith, who plans to become UC Davis’s top lawyer in September. San Francisco City-County human resources director Micki Callahan and Robert Balgenorth, a former president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California, round out the commission.
     After receiving the report, Brown has the legal option of ordering an additional 60-day cooling-off period while both sides continue negotiations. Brown said Sunday that another strike would “significantly disrupt public transportation services and will endanger the public’s health, safety, and welfare.”
     The BART system boasts 374,000 weekday riders and is the fifth busiest heavy-rail transit system in the U.S. Its budget has taken several hits in recent years, hwoever. after the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III. Transit officer Johannes Mehserle served two years in prison for shooting Grant, who was lying – facedown and handcuffed – on the Fruitvale station platform when the officer shot him.
     The officers claimed they had detained Grant and his friends because they matched the descriptions of people involved in an earlier fight on one of the trains. After Grant complained that he couldn’t breathe after being handcuffed, Mehserle drew his gun, allegedly mistaking it for his Taser, and shot the young man in the back. Onlookers recorded the entire event on their cellphones.
     A panel for 9th Circuit ruled last week that a jury must hear federal civil rights claims against the BART officers involved in Grant’s shooting. The panel held that the officers do not deserve immunity and “had no lawful basis to detain” Grant and his friends in the first place.
     Grant’s family also filed a $50 million lawsuit against BART shortly after the shooting. In 2010, the agency announced it had agreed to pay $1.5 million to Grant’s daughter and handed a $1.3 million settlement to Grant’s mother the following year.

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