Minus disputed provision, BART Board of Directors approves labor contract

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After six months of negotiations between BART management and unions, the BART Board of Directors voted 8-1 on Thursday to approve most of a mutually approved contract but struck down a disputed family- and medical-leave provision BART claims was included in error.

The disputed provision, Section 4.8 of the tentative agreements, would require BART to pay its employees for six of the 12 weeks of leave allowed under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. BART claims the provision, which was signed by three BART officials in July, was never agreed upon in negotiations and was erroneously included in a stack of tentative agreements. BART estimates the provision could cost up to $44 million over the four-year contract period if one-third of union workers take six-week leaves each year.

Union officials, however, were shocked by the board’s decision.

“It is outrageous that BART chose to vote down one provision that they don’t like,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant in a statement. “This is not how negotiations work.”

Under the act, eligible employees are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical reasons, although the employer may allow or require employees to substitute paid leave for paid vacation during such circumstances. BART employees currently use vacation, sick time or floating holidays for such leave.

According to BART spokesperson Alicia Trost, the tentative agreement was part of an early union proposal but was rejected in writing by BART management twice in June before the first of two strikes that disrupted about 400,000 daily rides.

The provision was signed by BART’s lead negotiator, deputy manager of labor relations and assistant general manager, but it was thereafter never discussed by BART’s board, according to Trost.

“We’re just waiting to see what the unions choose to do,” Trost said. “We’re hopeful they’ll take it back to the workers to vote on it again.”

For the board-accepted contract to take effect, it must be ratified by the unions before it can be signed by BART’s general manager.

Union representatives, however, expressed opposition to the newly modified contract. Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and ATU 1555, BART’s largest unions, said in a statement Friday that they are considering their next steps, including possible legal action.

“We consider the Board’s actions to be unprecedented and illegitimate,” the unions said in the statement. “The BART Board of Directors has disregarded the vote of more than two thousand BART workers.”

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, said further negotiations will likely ensue if unions choose not to ratify the board-accepted contract. Although a strike would be an unpopular option, Jacobs believes the public would be more likely to sympathize with the unions if it were to occur.

“I’ve never seen this before,” Jacobs said. “The problem we have now is it’s very hard to trust (BART) management — they’re all over the map. This puts the unions in a difficult position.”

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @christiancyoder.