BART president proposes ballot measure to stop worker strikes

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After months of tense relations marked by strikes between BART workers and management, the president of the BART Board of Directors has proposed a controversial measure for consideration on the November ballot that could prohibit employees from going on strike.

Joel Keller presented the proposed measure at the Feb. 27 board meeting, which was open to the public. The proposal was not voted on at the meeting, but many expressed concern over the measure.

According to Keller, the measure would not change the collective bargaining process, except for the final dispute resolution. In the event of a labor dispute, the case would be submitted to an arbitration board whose decision would be final and that consists of members from both sides of the dispute and a retired judge to act as a “neutral member.” All arbitration board hearings and documents would be public.

“Unless we find a way to do things differently here at BART, I’m afraid our brand, which includes not only the board, but management and our workers as well, is going to continue to be damaged,” Keller said at the meeting.

The BART Board of Directors has already created measures — such as the creation of an ad hoc committee of board members, union representatives and BART management — to improve negotiations and worker relations.

“We need to focus on improving the relationship between labor and management and the board,” said Rebecca Saltzman, a member of the BART Board of Directors and vice chair of the ad hoc committee. “We’re working on really proactive solutions so we can avoid any problems. Putting (this measure) on the ballot would be really divisive and would counteract the progress we’ve made.”

Many community members at the meeting expressed concern that placing the measure on the ballot would infringe on workers’ right to strike. It might also draw the focus away from other measures, including Measure B1, which proposes significant funding to some public transportation services. Although it failed in 2012, Measure B1 will likely be on the ballot again in November.

“If (the proposed) measure is put on the ballot, we’ll have to focus on fighting it, when our focus should be working together,” said Patricia Schuchardt, president of AFSCME 3993, a BART employee union.

Keller said in the meeting that he is open to alternative solutions. But if the ad hoc committee does not come up with sufficient solutions by June, Keller said he will push for a vote to put the proposal on the ballot.

“There is no silver-bullet solution to solve the issues between workers and management,” Saltzman said. “It’ll take a lot of things. Within the next few months, the committee hopes to have solid solutions.”

Contact Michelle Pitcher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @michellepitcher.