Two separate proposals hope to stem future BART strikes

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Two recent proposals are seeking to change the bargaining process between BART management and its unions — one which would completely overhaul the way negotiations are currently being conducted.

While one proposal recently suggested by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, is being greeted by union representatives and BART management as an improvement going into future negotiations, the other is having a harder time gaining union support because it would effectively take its right to strike off the table.

Citing the rights of local commuters, newly elected BART Board of Directors President Joel Keller is advocating a change that would require employees to continue working while contract disputes enter arbitration before a five-person panel made up of two union representatives, two management representatives and a retired judge selected by the other four. If the representatives are unable to come to a consensus in selecting  a judge, voters from the largest of the three counties BART serves would appoint the judge in a popular election.

Keller hopes the proposal,  if approved by the BART Board of Directors, will be put before voters from Contra Costa, Alameda and San Francisco counties to decide upon. While voters would not be able to approve the proposal at the polls, passing an advisory ballot initiative would send a message to state legislators to change current negotiation practices that often are detrimental to BART ridership, he said.

“It’s a winner-take-all; like baseball arbitration, you negotiate during the normal collective bargaining process,” Keller said. “The only difference would be in the event that we cannot come to an agreement rather than a work stoppage, the dispute would go before this panel.”

Keller said the five-person panel would arbitrate over each dispute, awarding a decision to either the management or labor that would be binding for both parties.

Pete Castelli, the executive director of the largest of the three unions representing BART employees, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said the proposal is based on the principle of taking collective bargaining rights away from labor and “putting all the cards” in the hands of BART management.

“It is interesting that everyone is always talking about a strike, but they are not talking about the failed process of the BART district, of how they bumbled this bargaining,” Castelli said.

 Still, both men support a preliminary proposal by DeSaulnier, who suggests having the state auditor conduct a “thorough” audit of BART’s financial status before contract negotiations begin, according to an emailed statement from the senator’s office.

Keller said he believes DeSaulnier’s proposal is a good partial solution, maintaining that any evaluation by an independent party would need to consider the ability of the district to meet all its financial obligations.

Keller’s proposal is scheduled to be discussed at an info session during the BART Board of Directors meeting Feb. 27.

Chase Schweitzer covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ChaseSchweitz.