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Rail News: Labor

BART union members approve contract; state utilities commission adopts new transit-rail safety rules

Members of Bay Area Rapid Transit's (BART) two largest unions have ratified four-year contracts that will increase wages, require employee pension contribution, improve safety and allow BART to adopt technology to streamline operations, agency and union officials announced on Saturday.

The contract vote by members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 follows a tumultuous six months of negotiations that led to two five-day strikes. During the second strike, which was issued last month, two BART workers were struck and killed by an out-of-service train as they were inspecting track.

Under the agreement, BART employees will receive a 15.38 percent pay increase over the four years. The increase is in line with what other public-sector employees have received under recent contracts and is consistent with cost-of-living adjustments, BART officials said in a press release.

The workers also will begin to pay into their pension, growing from 1 percent in the first year to 4 percent in the contract's final year. Employees will pay an additional $37 to the flat rate they pay toward health insurance, which is equivalent to a 9.2 percent premium contribution.

In addition, BART will have "better control" over scheduling, attendance and overtime, and will be able to change equipment and technology to upgrade and improve how the agency runs and maintains the system, BART officials said.

"BART was able to gain reforms it has sought for years, which will have a positive impact on our ability to manage the system and will improve service for our customers," said BART General Manager Grace Crunican.

BART's board will vote on the contracts at a future board meeting.

Union leaders believe the contract also addresses their concerns about worker safety.

"Starting with this contract, BART will have a procedure in place to track safety notices districtwide," said SEIU Local 1021 BART Chapter President John Arantes. "For the first time, we'll have an electronic tracking system of notices filed by workers to flag unresolved safety hazards, a system that could potentially save lives."

Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) late last week passed a set of new regulations to improve transit-rail worker safety on California's public transit systems.

The new rules were adopted following years of discussion, debate and collaboration among the state's transit-rail industry experts and stakeholders, CPUC officials said in a press release. The rules also in part are a response to last month's fatal BART accident.

The regulations adopt more protective interim safeguards and leave the BART accident proceeding open so that CPUC can examine and potentially adopt additional rules in response to the investigation's findings, commission official said.

Under the new roadway-worker safety rules, transit-rail agencies will be required to implement a safety-training program to ensure workers are well-versed in the methods required to work safely and effectively; maintain written flagging procedures to enhance safety on track; and ensure industry standard personal protective clothing for workers.

Also, transit-rail agencies will be required to research, plan implement additional roadway worker technology, such as early warning alarm technology, backup alarms and positive train control.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/4/2013